02/20/2020

A statement from Lieutenant-General (retired) Roméo Dallaire

to veterans and serving members of the Canadian Armed Forces.

On February 10, the organization I founded--the Romeo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative--held a public dialogue to mark the International Day Against the Use of Child Soldiers. Speaking at this event were two young men who each experienced being recruited as a child, and used by adults to fight wars created by adults. 

 

I have dedicated my life to ending the recruitment and use of children as soldiers. And I have done so for two reasons: Because children themselves must be protected.  And, speaking from personal experience, I know that facing a child in a theatre of war--regardless of the outcome--is detrimental to the health of our service members.

 

I know what goes through the mind of a soldier when face to face with a child in a kill-or-be-killed situation.  I have encountered children on the battlefield.  I have had to use force against child soldiers.  I suffered from PTSD for 25 years.

 

Those who have not served in the military may not know what moral dilemmas we face when deployed on operations. Operational Stress Injuries, like other physical injuries, can be lethal.  I have lost too many of my soldiers to suicide, and tried many times to end my own life.  Which is why I am being proactive to prevent this from happening to future generations of Canadian military and their families (who also bear the burdens and suffer the consequences of OSIs).

 

I appreciate that most Canadians are insulated from the realities of war.  Those realities are difficult.  Soldiers die in battle.  Soldiers are captured.  And so it is morally imperative that children not be used to fight adult wars.  And when they are, it is essential that the international community fulfill its legal and ethical duty to protect their rights under the law.

 

Both speakers at the February 10 event were abused as soldiers when they were young; at 13 and 15 years old they were children under all national and international laws. These definitions exist as a line in the sand, to protect the vulnerable.  

 

Both these men are choosing now to help solve the problem, rather than remain victims of it.  This is a resolve I can appreciate and support.

 

My aim -- and the aim of the Dallaire Initiative -- is to reduce casualties among children, among Canadian soldiers, and among security forces around the world, by eliminating the use of this perverse and illegal instrument of war: child soldiers.

 

This is why the Romeo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative held this dialogue.  To inform, to educate, and to listen.   We cannot continue to send our men and women off to face complex and ambiguous conflicts, if we do not strive to find meaningful solutions to the ethical problems they will encounter.  

 

The more information we can gather about children who are recruited and used as soldiers (including hearing from them directly), the closer we come to solving the problem.

 

Allons-y. 

Lieutenant-General (ret) the Honorable Roméo Dallaire

 

Should you wish to understand the facts around the case of Omar Khadr specifically, please refer to this article by Scott Taylor, especially the parts highlighted: 

Hill Times, February 19, 2020

by Scott Taylor

 

On Feb. 10, Omar Khadr gave a keynote speech at Dalhousie University in Halifax. The talk was organized by the Romeo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, and not surprisingly, Khadr spoke about having been a child soldier himself in Afghanistan.

This was the first time Khadr has spoken publicly on the subject, and to say that he has become a polemic character in Canada would be a massive understatement. Naturally enough, Khadr’s appearance at Dalhousie blew up yet another storm of controversy.

For those firmly in the “hate Khadr” camp, the belief is that Khadr was an al-Qaeda terrorist who committed treason against Canada and then was subsequently rewarded by the Trudeau government with a $10.5-million settlement for having been a traitor. Based on that set of facts, one would wonder how anyone could be sympathetic to this individual.

However, lost in the powerful emotion of hate is the fact that Khadr was just 15 years old at the time he was captured by U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan on July 27, 2002.

It was Khadr’s father who brought young Omar to Afghanistan to fight against the American-led invasion. The father bears the guilt of exploiting his own son, and 15-year-old Omar was simply an exploited victim. A minor. A child soldier.

 

To allege that Khadr was a terrorist would imply he was guilty of committing an act of terror. Yet, the circumstances surrounding Khadr’s capture were instead that of conventional warfare. The U.S. military was attacking Taliban fighters in the village of Ayub Kheyl. Airstrikes preceded the attack before U.S. Special Forces moved in to mop up the village.

 

During that phase of the operation, a grenade was thrown which killed U.S. Sergeant first class Christopher Speer. Although there was never any conclusive proof that Khadr threw that grenade—eye witness accounts differ—a severely wounded Khadr was the only Taliban survivor of that clash. Thus, Khadr was labeled a “murderer,” and it was also erroneously claimed that Sgt. Speer was acting as a medic, which therefore made his murder a “war crime.”

 

The fact is that Speer was a U.S. Special Forces operative with a medical specialization. During the firefight, he was armed and apparently dressed in local Afghan garb, meaning he was not targeted or deliberately murdered because he was a medic. It was a battle, not a terrorist attack. Speer was a professional soldier, not a doctor.

Following his capture, Khadr would spend the next 10 years as an inmate of the U.S. military’s detention centre in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

In October 2010, Khadr plead guilty to “murder in violation of the laws of war.” However, he subsequently renounced that confession, stating that it had only been made in order to secure his eventual release from Guantanamo Bay.

In September 2012, Khadr was repatriated to Canada to serve out the remainder of the U.S. military imposed eight-year sentence. He was out on bail by 2015, and on March 25, 2019, the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench declared his sentence complete.

This brings us back to the matter of the Canadian government authorizing a settlement of $10.5-million to Khadr in 2017. The payment was to settle a lawsuit brought by Khadr against the government for failing to respect his rights as a Canadian citizen under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The lynchpin of the case was a Supreme Court of Canada ruling, which stated in 2010 that Khadr’s treatment in Guantanamo Bay “offend[ed] the most basic standard [of] the treatment of detained youth suspects.”

He did not get a payout because he was a terrorist. He was paid compensation for the decade that the Canadian government left a victimized child soldier to rot in a U.S. detention centre.

Let’s let Khadr speak about the victimization of child soldiers, for on that subject he certainly knows whereof he speaks.

---

Scott Taylor is the editor and publisher of Esprit de Corps magazine.

Hill Times, February 19, 2020

by Scott Taylor

 

On Feb. 10, Omar Khadr gave a keynote speech at Dalhousie University in Halifax. The talk was organized by the Romeo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, and not surprisingly, Khadr spoke about having been a child soldier himself in Afghanistan.

This was the first time Khadr has spoken publicly on the subject, and to say that he has become a polemic character in Canada would be a massive understatement. Naturally enough, Khadr’s appearance at Dalhousie blew up yet another storm of controversy.

For those firmly in the “hate Khadr” camp, the belief is that Khadr was an al-Qaeda terrorist who committed treason against Canada and then was subsequently rewarded by the Trudeau government with a $10.5-million settlement for having been a traitor. Based on that set of facts, one would wonder how anyone could be sympathetic to this individual.

However, lost in the powerful emotion of hate is the fact that Khadr was just 15 years old at the time he was captured by U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan on July 27, 2002.

It was Khadr’s father who brought young Omar to Afghanistan to fight against the American-led invasion. The father bears the guilt of exploiting his own son, and 15-year-old Omar was simply an exploited victim. A minor. A child soldier.

 

To allege that Khadr was a terrorist would imply he was guilty of committing an act of terror. Yet, the circumstances surrounding Khadr’s capture were instead that of conventional warfare. The U.S. military was attacking Taliban fighters in the village of Ayub Kheyl. Airstrikes preceded the attack before U.S. Special Forces moved in to mop up the village.

 

During that phase of the operation, a grenade was thrown which killed U.S. Sergeant first class Christopher Speer. Although there was never any conclusive proof that Khadr threw that grenade—eye witness accounts differ—a severely wounded Khadr was the only Taliban survivor of that clash. Thus, Khadr was labeled a “murderer,” and it was also erroneously claimed that Sgt. Speer was acting as a medic, which therefore made his murder a “war crime.”

 

The fact is that Speer was a U.S. Special Forces operative with a medical specialization. During the firefight, he was armed and apparently dressed in local Afghan garb, meaning he was not targeted or deliberately murdered because he was a medic. It was a battle, not a terrorist attack. Speer was a professional soldier, not a doctor.

Following his capture, Khadr would spend the next 10 years as an inmate of the U.S. military’s detention centre in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

In October 2010, Khadr plead guilty to “murder in violation of the laws of war.” However, he subsequently renounced that confession, stating that it had only been made in order to secure his eventual release from Guantanamo Bay.

In September 2012, Khadr was repatriated to Canada to serve out the remainder of the U.S. military imposed eight-year sentence. He was out on bail by 2015, and on March 25, 2019, the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench declared his sentence complete.

This brings us back to the matter of the Canadian government authorizing a settlement of $10.5-million to Khadr in 2017. The payment was to settle a lawsuit brought by Khadr against the government for failing to respect his rights as a Canadian citizen under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The lynchpin of the case was a Supreme Court of Canada ruling, which stated in 2010 that Khadr’s treatment in Guantanamo Bay “offend[ed] the most basic standard [of] the treatment of detained youth suspects.”

He did not get a payout because he was a terrorist. He was paid compensation for the decade that the Canadian government left a victimized child soldier to rot in a U.S. detention centre.

Let’s let Khadr speak about the victimization of child soldiers, for on that subject he certainly knows whereof he speaks.

---

Scott Taylor is the editor and publisher of Esprit de Corps magazine.

© 2020 Roméo Dallaire Inc. 

Photo Credit: St Joseph's Health Care Foundation