The New Yorker
by Amy Davidson -Senior Editor
Thursday, March 29, 2012
We are even more lost when cases are truly complex. There is apparently a piece of paper at the Pentagon involving the case of a former child soldier that is waiting for Secretary of Defense Panetta’s signature: “It’s on his desk, it’s ready,” a source told the Canadian Press. The paperwork would complete the transfer of Omar Khadr, who is now twenty-five, from Guantánamo Bay, where he has been held for a decade, to Canada, where he is meant to serve out his term. In a deal with prosecutors, he pleaded guilty to throwing a grenade that killed an American soldier named Christopher Speer. (Khadr is a Canadian citizen, born in Toronto.) He was fifteen when he was captured, badly wounded, in Afghanistan. What have we done with him, and with the children of any number of wars, since?
There is a scene in “A Life on Hold,” a short video produced by Amnesty International, in which Somali refugees gather at a shanty in a camp in Tunisia to watch the BBC, which is showing the latest fighting in Mogadishu. (Thanks to Michelle Shephard for pointing it out.) The camera settles on the face of a boy named Omar; he looks like he’s seen a ghost, and, in a sense, he has. “War is not easy, it’s beyond imagination,” he says. “I’ve seen the worst of it, and I don’t want to see any more.”
Omar is seventeen; he fled Somalia when he was thirteen. In between he worked in Libya. In the video—which has music by K’naan (the Somali-Canadian rapper), Mos Def, and Chali 2na—he tells some of that story: how, in the chaos surrounding the fall of Qaddafi, he says, the police beat him with an iron bar and he almost died. (The fate of foreign migrant workers is one of the many narratives we’ve all mostly let drop from the Libyan war.) He had to learn to walk again. He crossed the border to Tunisia, where he lives in a tent. “When I was a child I used to dream of becoming the President of Somalia. Now all I think about is if I will live or die.” He talks about that time—“when I was a child”—as if it was another age entirely.
We think that our views about children and armed conflict are simple: they shouldn’t be there and we don’t want them hurt. And of course they shouldn’t, and we don’t. But when we ourselves do hurt them, in a drone strike or a shooting in the night, we tend to call it either an accident or a crime, each of which, in its way, is a dismissal or refusal to think hard about what wars, by being wars, do to children.