Monday, February 11, 2008

Al-Qaeda, America, and Child Soldiers

An ostensible al-Qaeda recruiting video was released by the US military last week depicting the training of young boys as kidnappers and gunmen.

Is this an authentic video or a propaganda film by the US military? It doesn't strain the imagination to think of al-Qaeda training youngsters, but the timing of the video's release is certainly interesting. Could it be aimed at drawing Americans' anti-child-soldiers sentiment toward our enemy, and away from the fact that the US military is preparing to prosecute Omar Khadr, a Guantanamo detainee who was only 15 when he was captured on the battlefield. Under US treaty obligations (the US signed the Optional Protocol to the CRC in 2002), Omar Khadr should not be tried as an adult, but this is unlikely to save him.

For what it's worth I'm not sure I agree with either position. The 18-years cut-off point below which it is supposedly unethical to recruit persons is a arbitrary Western construct. In many societies, including areas of Central Asia, young men reach fighting age much sooner, just as young women are married off in their teen years. We may object to this, but the mere evidence of such training doesn't by itself signify a lack of "civilization" on the part of al-Qaeda. I think it's much more important what these young lads are being trained to do.

As for Khadr. His lawyers argue he should not be tried at all. But is that appropriate? If the alternative is to rot in Gitmo without a trial like the other several hundred inmates, I'm not sure Khadr wouldn't prefer to have his day in court.

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