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Eighteen-year-old Omar Khadr has come of age in the confines of a 6-foot-by-8-foot cell in the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay. A Canadian citizen who grew up in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Khadr was just 15 when he was captured in July 2002. His father, who was killed in October 2003, allegedly had close ties to Osama bin Laden and helped finance al Qaeda operations. The charges against Omar Khadr are also serious. The U.S. government accuses him of killing an American soldier in a grenade attack and of planting land mines intended for U.S. troops. He is also alleged to have attended an al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan and to have conducted surveillance on U.S. troop movements. Muneer Ahmad and Richard Wilson, who represent Khadr in a habeas corpus petition filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, say that regardless of whether their client played a role in hostilities, his detention violates international laws governing the treatment of child soldiers. Ahmad and Wilson run the International Human Rights Law Clinic at American University Washington College of Law. One key document cited by Khadr’s legal team is the protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict. The protocol, which has been ratified by the United States, condemns the recruitment of child fighters by groups, like al Qaeda, not associated with nation states. The treaty calls upon signatory states to rehabilitate and reintegrate children who become victims of armed conflict. “To the extent the United States designates Omar as an enemy combatant, he is entitled to the protection of treaty provisions on child soldiers,” Wilson says. In a recent court filing, government lawyers dispense with Khadr’s age-related claims in a footnote and argue that any rights Khadr may have had under the protocol are moot now that he has turned 18. The military did give special consideration to some juveniles detained at Guantánamo Bay. They were housed in a special facility known as Camp Iguana, which had several shared rooms, an ocean view, and a television. Those at Camp Iguana exercised daily and received lessons in math and English. But other minors, including Khadr, were integrated into the general prison population. Wilson says military officials determined Khadr should be treated as an adult. “It’s very clear that the government chose to treat those people that they call children in a dramatically different way while they were detained at Guantánamo,” he says. “Those kids were . . . basically treated as kids should be, while Omar and others were basically cast into the lot of other adults.” Ahmad and Wilson met with Khadr at Guantánamo Bay for the first time the week of Nov. 8. Wilson says Khadr appeared to be in good physical health and was eager to hear about the legal efforts on his behalf. In addition to the habeas claim, a suit seeking $100,000 from the Canadian government has been filed by Khadr’s grandmother in a Canadian court. Khadr was born in Canada in 1986 and moved between Canada and the Middle East during his childhood. In 1997, Khadr, who was one of six children, moved from Pakistan to Afghanistan with his family. According to news reports, the family’s ties to al Qaeda ran deep. In 1999, bin Laden attended the wedding of one of Khadr’s sisters. In a February 2004 interview with the Public Broadcasting Service, Khadr’s mother said she was proud of her son: “Wouldn’t you like your Canadian son to be so brave to stand up and fight for his right[s]?” Wilson, a former public defender, is unfazed by the allegations against his client and his client’s family. “These are only accusations, and we certainly look forward to addressing them,” he says. “Whatever may be the sins of the father, I don’t think we can visit them on the son, particularly at the age at which he was swept up in this situation. He was quite young, quite young.”

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