Testing the Ethical Compass

By Seth Freed Wessler Jul 15, 2008

The release of video footage from an interrogation of then 16 year-old Omar Khadr, a detainee at Guantanamo Bay, gives us little new information about the detention center or the treatment of detainees. Nothing really changes in terms of the facts on the ground. What does change, or rather, what is being tested, are the ethical compasses of those who see the video. Arrested in Afghanistan at the age of 15, Khadr, now 21, is a Canadian citizen charged with killing an American soldier. His lawyers argue that he be repatriated to Canada and hope that the release of the video will provide the necessary political pressure for the Canadian Prime Minster to request as much of the United States. Until now, Canada has refused to demand Khadr’s release and repatriation. Khadr’s lawyer’s, recognizing that legal proceedings may be slow at best and futile at worst, are hedging their bets on political rather than legal process. But the political will necessary to secure Khadr’s release from detention in Guantanamo Bay will depend on whether or not Canadian and American citizens are moved, in an ethical sense, by the sounds and images of a young teenage boy begging for release and showing his questioners marks of his maltreatment and perhaps torture. The question is this: When posed with immediate, irrefutable, visceral, visual evidence of the suffering of an individual, will the public’s ethical moorings be stronger than their hatred for what Khadr represents? Will ethics be overcome by the wholesale dehumanization of this era’s quintessential “other”?