Politics

We Fact-checked Michelle Rempel’s Fox News Interview About Omar Khadr

Rempel conveniently omitted and skewed many facts regarding Khadr’s $10-million payout. But she wasn’t entirely wrong either.

by Sarah Hagi
Jul 20 2017, 9:14pm

Michelle Rempel, Justin Tang/CP | Omar Khadr, Jason Franson/CP

The story of Omar Khadr is one that's gripped Canadians for the better part of 15 years. At the age of 15, the Toronto-born son of Ahmed Khadr, a "senior associate" of Al-Qaeda, was alleged to have thrown a grenade that killed one American soldier and wounded another in the early stages of the Afghanistan conflict. After being captured and detained he was sent to to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and subsequently Guantanamo Bay where he endured years of torture and abuse. Officially, he pleaded guilty and confessed (he now argues his confession was under duress) to "murder in violation of the laws of war" and was then shipped back to Canada in 2012, where he was eventually released on bail in 2015.

Currently residing in Edmonton and starting a new life, Khadr remains under scrutiny and a controversial figure in Canada. Earlier this month, it was revealed the Canadian Liberal government was awarding Khadr with $10.5 million and an apology as compensation for what he endured. (His civil lawsuit asked for $20 million, so arguably the payout saved the government money.) Of course, this news hasn't gone down well with many Canadians. Despite the fact that the Canadian government failed Khadr (remember: he was 15 at the time of his arrest and he was illegally interrogated by Canadian agents, who turned that information over to US intelligence, according to Canada's Supreme Court), plenty are seeing this as a way to frame his compensation as a type of "reward."

As recent polls suggested that the majority of Canadians, regardless of political affiliation, were against how the payout was handled, and the Conservative party, under new leader Andrew Scheer, have jumped on the opportunity to attack Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for "paying a self-confessed terrorist over $10 million."

The Conservative Party have also taken their message south of the border to the friendly ears of the US right-wing media. Rempel wasn't the only Conservative MP speaking to American media about the settlement. Pierre Poilievre spoke to Newsmax to slam the government's decision. (It's worth noting they're being criticized by some in conservative media for their appearances.)

On Fox News' Tucker Carlson Tonight earlier this week, Conservative MP Michelle Rempel took the opportunity to speak on behalf of Canadians under the banner of "Terrorist Payout."

Expressing that, "most Canadians are quite outraged and disappointed by this state of affairs," she left a great deal of the nuance of the case out for viewers, omitting most of the facts about Khadr's ordeal—not once mentioning he was a child or that he claims his confession was made under duress.

Here's a fact-check of the entire interview.

Rempel: "Most Canadians, I think, are quite outraged and quite disappointed by this state of affairs.'

Fact-check: This is pretty fair. A poll says 71 percent of Canadians think the Liberals did the wrong thing and should have fought Khadr in court. In the poll by the Angus Reid Institute, key findings suggested that 43 percent of Canadians also believed Khadr didn't deserve an apology or compensation, while 25 percent believed he deserved an apology and no compensation. Another 29 percent believe he deserved both an apology and compensation.

Rempel: "This particular decision...it's been made in a bit of a vacuum and we're just getting dribs and drabs of what's happened."

Fact-check: The first half of her sentence is an exaggeration. The fact is, some sort of compensation seemed inevitable. Throughout the course of his imprisonment, it was revealed Khadr was mistreated to the knowledge of the Canadian government. In 2008, The Toronto Star revealed that while the government was maintaining he was being treated "humanely" Khadr was being mistreated by the United States government in Guantanamo. In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that Khadr's human rights were in fact being violated at Guantanamo. The decision wasn't made in a vacuum when it was acknowledged the Canadian government was aware their citizen was abused by another government as a child and adult and did nothing to stop it. However, the second part of her sentence is pretty true. The compensation payout story was broke by the media and the Liberals didn't immediately jump to give out all the details.

Rempel: "The prime minister has said this was done for some sort of financial reason to save money, but the reality is that this was a decision made by his government and not by a court of law."

Fact-check: The first half of this sentence is accurate. From Trudeau, himself.

"If we had continued to fight this, not only would we have inevitably lost, but estimates ranged from $30 to $40 million that it would have ended up costing the government," he said. "So this was the responsible path to take."

Worth noting that as Khadr was suing for $20 million, Trudeau is suggesting the government could have spent $20-million on legal fees. Lawyers are expensive, but that seems….high.

But back to Rempel.

Backtracking to the fact that the courts did in fact unanimously agree that Khadr's human rights were being violated—Trudeau said this had everything to do with the rights of a Canadian being violated. Telling G20 participants in Hamburg:

"The Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects all Canadians, every one of us, even when it is uncomfortable. This is not about the details or merits of the Khadr case. When the government violates any Canadian's Charter rights we all end up paying for it."

This decision is not the first of its kind. In 2007 Canadian citizen Maher Arar was awarded $11.5 million along with a formal apology by (Conservative PM) Stephen Harper's government after spending 10 months being tortured in a Syrian prison. Of course, because Rempel did not mention what Khadr endured at all, the point of why Khadr was awarded a $10 million never really came up.

As for it being a government decision, yes it was. But it wasn't made in a court-less vacuum. The courts had made multiple rulings and the Liberals had lawyers giving them advice.

Rempel: "What was disappointing for me as a legislature and for my colleagues was that this decision happened after our House of Commons, which is similar to your Congress, rose for the summer. So right now we're not sitting. We usually have an opportunity to ask questions like 'why did this happen?'"

Fact-check: True. While it didn't happen in a vacuum as Rempel suggested initially, it's true that representatives aren't currently sitting and there's no question period to demand answers from the Liberals.

Rempel: "How it happened and the fact that the way that it's happened has probably pre-empted and prevented Tabitha Speer from seizing any of those assets." (Carlson asks: "Assets belonging to the father?" Rempel replies: "That's correct.")

Fact-check: Bringing up the families of the soldier, Christopher Speer who was allegedly killed by Khadr, and Layne Morris, who was blinded by a grenade, Rempel suggested that Khadr being awarded his settlement "probably pre-empted and prevented Tabitha Speer [Christopher Speer's widow] from obtaining those assets" suggesting because Khadr was awarded he somehow took away from any settlement she might receive from the Canadian government. In reality, Speer's widow attempted to freeze Khadr's payout because she's currently trying to sue him in Utah for $134.1 million. Tabitha Speer accused Khadr of hiding assets in her attempt to freeze his payout, which the judge promptly denied.

Rempel: "Canada values the relationship we have based on our men and women in uniform serving shoulder to shoulder with each other and I think there are a lot of people going, 'How did this happen and why?' Again, I think our prime minister has to answer."

(When asked by Carlson why the prime minister didn't call Speer's widow) "I'm sure that's something the prime minister should answer for, I know [former] prime minister [Stephen] Harper has reached out to her."

Fact-check: Again, Rempel is framing this as though the issue at hand has to do with what Omar Khadr served time in prison for. The settlement has nothing to do with what he may have done when he was 15 or how Canada honours their relationship with the United States. He's not getting money as a reward for his crimes that he served time for. The settlement and apology are only about the crimes committed against him as a prisoner with the Canadian government's consent.

The one thing this interview largely missed was context. Before the interview aired, Carlson began introduced the segment by saying "crime does pay," adding Khadr would be the richest man in your neighbourhood. Going on to explain how he "made his money" Carlson told a heavily skewed version of Khadr's story in which he joined the Taliban, and was sent to Gitmo for killing a man. He then went on to tell his audience, "Lucky for Khadr, he was born a Canadian citizen so after being released he sued the government of Canada for his imprisonment." Again, drilling into the point that Khadr's settlement had more to do being rewarded for his crimes than torture, Carlson said Trudeau gave Khadr an official apology for "being mean" to him.

Rempel was slightly more generous in the words she used, but she too largely ignored all context. Rempel not only conveniently omitted that Khadr was a 15-year-old kid at the time of his arrest, that his rights as a Canadian were violated under the government's eye, and that he claims he confessed under duress—she repackaged facts for an American audience. While none of this is surprising considering how often Tucker Carlson has been caught spreading falsehoods on air, seeing a Canadian MP fuel right wing American panic is more than a little bit concerning in this current environment.

Follow Sarah Hagi on Twitter.