UN seeks release of former child soldier

AP News
Posted: Oct 28, 2010 3:40 PM
UN seeks release of former child soldier

The U.N. representative for children and armed conflict called on the U.S. military commission at Guantanamo Bay in a letter circulated Thursday to release the youngest and last Western detainee _ who was 15 when he was arrested _ and send him to a rehabilitation program in Canada.

The case of Omar Khadr "is a deep concern for all of us in the international community working on the issue of children and armed conflict," Radhika Coomaraswamy, a U.N. undersecretary-general, wrote in the letter.

"In every sense Omar represents the classic child soldier narrative, recruited by unscrupulous groups to undertake actions at the bidding of adults to fight battles they barely understand," she wrote.

The son of an alleged al-Qaida financier, Khadr has admitted to throwing a grenade that killed Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer during a 2002 firefight in Afghanistan. Now 24, Khadr has pleaded guilty to five war crimes charges, avoiding a trial that could have resulted in a life sentence and ending what has been one of the most heavily scrutinized Guantanamo war crimes cases.

Defense attorneys say Khadr was pushed into war by his father, Ahmed Said Khadr, an alleged al-Qaida financier whose family stayed with Osama bin Laden briefly when the younger Khadr was a boy.

His Egyptian-born father was killed in 2003 when a Pakistani military helicopter shelled the house where he was staying with senior al-Qaida operatives.

Coomaraswamy urged the commission "to consider international practice _ practice supported by the U.S. Government _ that Omar Khadr not be subject to further incarceration but that arrangements be made for him to enter a controlled rehabilitation program in Canada."

Khadr's lawyers have said a potential deal is in the works.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon last week to talk about Khadr's fate, although specifics of the conversation have not been revealed.

"The cardinal principle behind these practices is that child soldiers should not be prosecuted or face criminal charges," Coomeraswamy wrote. "The International Criminal Court by statute will not prosecute children under the age of 18 years for war crimes or crimes against humanity.

"I have learned that Omar would like to become a medic," added Coomaraswamy. "Perhaps the rehabilitation process could help him find a new direction for his life in helping to save people's lives."