Is it safe?

This is an update to a post I wrote in 2011, when Kabul was suffering frequent suicide attacks.


Cartoon by Matt Bors for Cartoon Movement. Yes, that’s supposed to be me.

Aside from what to pack for Kabul, the most frequent question I’m asked is, “How safe is Kabul?”

The boiled down truth is that Kabul is not safe. It is the capital of a country at war, and coming here is a risk you need to seriously weigh against the good you think you can do. Staying safe is largely a matter of luck. People who do all the right things still get killed, while many reckless expats live on physically unscathed. The war in Kabul is like slow-rising floodwater, not a tsunami. This is what journalists mean when they refer to a rising tide of violence. It is overtaking every aspect of life, gradually, unevenly. Kabul experienced frequent attacks against civilians targets from 2009 through 2011, with Taliban suicide bombers taking out soft targets –shopping malls, supermarkets, and guesthouses. 2012 was eerily quiet, but now appears to have been an aberration as attacks are picking up again.

The longer you stay, the more likely it is that you will experience a spectacular attack firsthand. If you’re in the city for several months straight, you can count on being around for some kind of violent event; this is one of the grim mathematical truths of Kabul. Three weeks into my first year, Taliban commandos attacked a few blocks from my house. The massive car bomb jarred me awake and I lay on my bedroll listening to the ensuing gun-battle while my journalist housemate rushed into the mayhem, cameras in hand. You’ll never forget your first bombing — the sound of it and the indescribable change in the air in the moments immediately after the explosion. A friend of mine drove into an attack on a shopping mall during the summer of 2011. Before her taxi turned around, she saw a bloodied man being dragged away from the scene and a dismembered leg lying on the road. It was her first bombing.

But bombings are not how you will experience insecurity on a daily basis. Instead, you’ll experience insecurity in the subtle changes in the behavior and speech of your friends and colleagues; the shorter tempers, the depressed lethargy of your Afghan friends, the offhand remarks about not going for picnics at Qargha anymore because it’s not safe, and the tight faces of your fellow shoppers at the supermarket.  You’ll feel the deterioration in the grumbling of restaurant owners pacing their near-empty establishments, the exodus of your fellow expats to Burma and Mali, and the shifting landscape of security barriers and checkpoints.

Expats here are always searching for the right combination of security measures, that elusive, magic formula that will absolutely ensure safety or, at the very least, dampen the post-tragedy “she/he was asking for it” talk that is so toxic within the expat community. You should follow your employer’s security rules or, if you’re on your own, take the advice of long-termers seriously, but short of sealing yourself off from ordinary Afghan life entirely there are few ways to better your odds. Your odds are still pretty good –most of your days will be blissfully quiet and boring– but if don’t think you can cope through occasional days and nights of surreal mayhem, you should consider working elsewhere.

Practical advice for the freewheeling newcomer:


Low profile is the name of the game. This means avoiding large, well-known guesthouses. Ask around before you arrive and stay with other expats in an established, out-of-the-way house, or, even better, with a combination of expats and young Afghan professionals. Look for a house with high compound walls, set back from the street, and located in a mostly Afghan or mixed Afghan-expat neighborhood.


Use reservation taxis if you need to use taxis. Avoid yellow taxis unless you are with a group of three or more people, including at least one large man and a Dari-speaker.


It is simply a matter of time until a suicide bomber blows up one of the high-end restaurants frequented by foreigners and Afghan civil servants, but you don’t have many other options if you want to have a social life.


Do your grocery shopping after dark. Suicide bombings are typically carried out in the morning and afternoon, and almost never happen at night. Avoid shopping on Fridays. The majority of all suicide bombings in Kabul happen on Fridays. Don’t shop alone unless you’ve lived in Kabul for several months. I’ve also found that, as a woman, it is a good idea to carry a baton of knife in an easy-to-reach pocket. Busy shopping malls, crowded streets and stairwells are the favored lurking sites of Kabul’s many bored, predatory teenage boys and men.

Your intuition

Follow it. If a situation appears benign on its face but feels sinister, get out ASAP. Your subconscious is picking up on something.


Very few roads are paved and Afghans drive aggressively. Wear your seat belt at all times. If your office’s cars don’t have seat belts  complain until they do. Steer clear of traffic accidents, especially on the main roads leading out of the city, as these can quickly escalate to bloody brawls involving dozens of people and weapons. If a taxi driver is driving recklessly, complain to the dispatcher.


Smart people weighing in on the possibility of an intervention in Libya

Where does the debate stand now?

As Spencer Ackerman reports at Wired, some kind of military action by the west is looking increasingly likely.

The United Nations Security Council has already sanctioned Gadhafi and referred him to the International Criminal Court following his violent suppression of Libya’s revolutionary movement, creating the contours of a hardening international position against Gadhafi. And now most U.S. nationals in Libya have now fled, removing what the Obama administration has considered an impediment to action.

So here comes the Navy. The Enterprise carrier strike group, last seen hunting pirates, is in the Red Sea — and may sail through Suez to the Mediterranean — and the New York Times reports that an “amphibious landing vessel, with Marines and helicopters” are there as well. The Financial Times adds that the British are considering the use of the air base at Akrotiri in Cyprus as a staging ground to enforce a no-fly zone. Any envisioned military action is likely to be a multilateral affair, either blessed by the U.N. or NATO.

That seems to be the harshest policy yet envisioned — one explicitly discussed today by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. (No one’s discussing a ground invasion.) For the time being, the Navy is simply moving assets into place in case President Obama decides to take more punitive measures against Gadhafi.

Andrew Exum of Abu Muqawama is shaking his head.

We are now paying the price for having waged two very difficult wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that far too few Americans have participated in or been made to sacrifice for. I sometimes get accused of being a hawk because I have argued that resource-intensive counterinsurgency campaigns have represented our best chance to salvage bad situations in Iraq and Afghanistan, but my experiences in both countries also taught me that a) force has its limits and b) we should all be very cautious about committing U.S. troops to combat operations in the first place. I’m horrified to read liberal interventionists continue to suggest the ease with which humanitarian crises and regional conflicts can be solved by the application of military power. To speak so glibly of such things reflects a very immature understanding of the limits of force and the difficulties and complexities of contemporary military operations.

MK of Ink Spots has has a different take on the intervention debate.

The last time this debate occurred, Ex put forth four basic questions that cover most of the important ground. Unfortunately, to my knowledge, no one – including Ex – is publicly answering those questions with regard to Libya. Most of us (again, including Ex) just don’t know enough about the country, and what is currently going on there.

However, Ex, Elkus and others are all emphatically pointing out how complicated military intervention can be, and in the past have highlighted the potential for things to go wrong – very wrong, very quickly.

On this, they are absolutely correct, but it’s true of all military operations, regardless of the objectives. Repeating it ad nauseam is not really contributing to the debate. Certainly, those who underplay or obscure the very real dangers should be challenged. But those who draw false analogies with little if any resemblance in the specifics of the situation are equally guilty of misrepresenting reality. And the skeptics of intervention tend to stubbornly ignore examples of success in some very hard cases.

Moreover, those of us who’ve studied this particular type of problem in detail would warn that history has consistently demonstrated that when groups tip over into mass killing, very little short of military action has ever proven effective. Everything else takes too long to bite, or simply doesn’t bite hard enough to change the strategic calculus of the perpetrators. So instead of vague discussions of how difficult and costly it might be, or patronizingly dismissing the other side as not understanding the complexity of military operations, those who want to weigh in should be making specific arguments about the situation confronting us.

I will say this, though: a no-fly zone is unlikely to prove effective unless the perpetrators are only able to attack civilians from the air, or value their air assets above the goals they hoped to achieve through mass killing. Given that mass killing is usually justified or even triggered by a perception of existential threat from the victims, the latter is pretty unlikely. A pair of articles (to which Ex linked) highlight the limitations of no-fly zones in general, and with reference to Libya.

Ok, ok, ok. But what do LIBYANS want? (We should all be asking this.) The Guardian just ran a moving piece by a demonstrator. It begins with stories like this:

“Kiss my mum goodbye for me, and tell her that her son died a hero,” said my friend Ahmed, 26, to the first person who rushed to his side after he was shot in a Tripoli street.

Two days later, my friend Ahmed died in the hospital. Just like that.

That tall, handsome, funny, witty, intellectual young man is no more. No longer will he answer my phone calls. Time will stand still on his Facebook account for ever.

Betraying my age, I’m going to admit that the line above brought me to tears.

This is the kind of story you get out of Tripoli these days. Hundreds of them, perhaps even thousands. The kind of stories that you could never imagine on your doorstep.

Like when you hear a six-month-old baby has been murdered, you just hope with all your heart that Saif al-Islam Gaddafi’s claims turn out to be true that there’s precious little violence here, that al-Jazeera fabricated the story. You hope that infant is right now sleeping peacefully in his mother’s arms. Like when you hear of someone from Tajura who had a bullet in his head for two days before dying, leaving behind a bereaved wife and child. You have been praying to God that this father be there playing with his child. But the photos, the video show you the cold truth. The wails that need no translation: loved ones being snatched away by death. All humans understand that scream.

But the author’s message is this:

Don’t get me wrong. I, like most Libyans, believe that imposing a no-fly zone would be a good way to deal the regime a hard blow on many levels; it would cut the route of the mercenary convoys summoned from Africa, it would prevent Gaddafi from smuggling money and other assets, and most importantly it would stop the regime from bombing weapons arsenals that many eyewitnesses have maintained contain chemical weapons; something that would unleash an unimaginable catastrophe, not to mention that his planes might actually carry such weapons.

Nevertheless, one thing seems to have united Libyans of all stripes; any military intervention on the ground by any foreign force would be met – as Mustafa Abud Al Jeleil, the former justice minister and head of the opposition-formed interim government, said – with fighting much harsher than what the mercenaries themselves have unleashed.

Nor do I favour the possibility of a limited air strike for specific targets. This is a wholly popular revolution, the fuel to which has been the blood of the Libyan people. Libyans fought alone when western countries were busy ignoring their revolution at the beginning, fearful of their interests in Libya. This is why I’d like the revolution to be ended by those who first started it: the people of Libya.

Read the whole thing, but keep in mind that a no-fly zone is a military intervention, whether Libyans see it as one or not, and enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya would almost certainly draw the intervening parties into an air war.

Bill Easterly is wrong again (This time on Libya)

Bill Easterly never wastes an opportunity to use Aid Watch to vent his disdain for all things military. In response to the growing consensus that something drastic must be done to prevent mass bloodshed in Libya, Easterly writes:

What can the rest of the world do? Any military intervention would play into Qaddafi’s hand, especially there really is nobody that can be trusted to do a “neutral humanitarian” intervention.

Other than Bill Easterly, who uses the term “neutral humanitarian intervention”? Such a thing does not exist and never has.

Military interventions are by definition not neutral, even when they are launched in response to humanitarian crises. Whether multilateral or unilateral, this kind of military intervention is aimed at thwarting the mass killing of one group (or more than one group) by an opposing group. A military intervention in Libya would be aimed at removing the Libyan regime’s ability to wipe out the political opposition. Success would almost certainly entail inflicting serious damage to Libya’s military infrastructure, and in the process severely weakening or even causing the collapse of the state.

And the “imperialism” canard isn’t likely to resonate in this case. Consensus in the Arab world supports the demonstrators, and the Arab League just suspended Libya in response to the government’s bloody crackdown. (Is Easterly even paying attention?)

Trade embargo not a good idea — why punish the Libyan people? (True confessions: I went to Libya myself for a trek in the Sahara over Christmas holiday.)

Oh, ew.

Libya’s opening to tourism and trade with the West in the last few years has arguably made this current revolt more possible, not less possible.

That might be so (I don’t know if it is, and I bet Easterly doesn’t either), but we’re not debating the relative merits of different long-term punishments for a repressive regime right now. We’re debating the wisdom of martial measures to keep Libya from becoming the next great argument for why the Genocide Convention should apply to political groups.

Too many NOs for you? Well here’s some Constructive NOs: NO to any aid to Libya, NO to any caving in to Libyan government contract blackmail, NO to arms sales. (Feel free to apply any of that to you, Italian government).

Look, I’m not sold on a military intervention, but any means, but I’m not willing to dismiss that option outright.

Gaddafi is not Ben Ali or Mubarak. Hell, he’s not even Nicolae freakin’ Ceaușescu at this point. He’s an obviously mentally unstable dictator who has already called in air strikes against his political opponents and dispatched foreign mercenaries to gun down protesters on the streets. He and his even scarier son (and likely successor) have both gone on television and told the world, in no uncertain terms, that they intend to slaughter their opponents and won’t hesitate to escalate the violence into a full-blown civil war.

Hundreds of protesters have been killed so far. It’s morally responsible to consider the option of a military intervention, among other options, if those hundreds look poised to become thousands or tens of thousands.

To that end, it’s critical that more information regarding the number of Libyan dead reaches the outside world.

“Informal justice”

Back in November, I had a long, frustrating conversation with another expat about the merits of Afghanistan’s “informal justice system,” which isn’t really a system but rather a huge collection of widely varying local dispute resolution practices. The other expat romanticized these practices, peppering her speech with  jirgas and shuras and tribal elders. I asked her if she had talked to many Afghans about their experiences with “informal justice.” She said she had not, because her employer did not allow her to move beyond the most heavily garrisoned areas of Kabul.

I sighed, thinking how ridiculous it was that this woman was being paid as a researcher and expert in the rule of law, and snarkily recounted the absurd/scary experiences of several Afghan friends who had to deal with “informal justice.”  I didn’t mince words. The researcher grimaced.

But holy sh*t, folks, those stories of beatings, extortion and discrimination pale in comparison to this kernel of horror from TIME:

Abdul Wahid Zhian, a lawyer with the Legal Aid Organization of Afghanistan, a nonprofit that provides free legal assistance, had to leave his native Ghazni province a year ago after taking on two controversial runaway cases that resulted in his receiving death threats. The first case involved a father who had raped and impregnated his daughter but was acquitted of charges. In the second, two girls were raped by their father and brother. Yet the men were pardoned, in the interest of resolving an interfamily dispute, by a tribal jirga that ultimately decided that matters could be made right by executing the lawyer and the girls. (They are now in hiding.) “We have a cultural problem here that undermines the law,” says Zhian, who is now seeking asylum abroad. He remains adamant that “running away is a right, not a crime.”

I…I…I’m at a loss here.

Someone please high-five Charli Carpenter

For tackling torture proponent Marc Thiessen’s central argument in Courting Disaster: How the CIA Kept America Safe and How Barack Obama is Inviting the Next Attack on utilitarian grounds as well as liberal ones.

What if we were to accept that the CIA has made America a wee bit safer by torturing KSM?

Liberals actually need an answer to this question, I would argue, because so many of their fellow Americans will buy Thiessen’s empirical case. So the most important part of his argument to refute is actually not the causal argument. The most important part of his argument is his moral argument.

In fact, the most fascinating chapter of his book is the one in which he poses the question: why should torture be considered an absolute prohibition, when killing is not? He explores just war theory and makes an interesting argument that non-lethal forms of torture – the kinds that are scary more than physically injurious – are a lesser evil if innocent civilian lives can be saved as a result.

But this argument as it turns out can be answered by liberals on Marc Thiessen’s own terms as well, because if you read closely it is clear that Thiessen’s overriding goal is not to promote a torture culture per se, but something much nobler: to protect innocent civilian life. The problem with his analysis is that he simply doesn’t have a clear empirical understanding of the factors that most threaten innocent civilian life.

As a matter of fact, terrorism falls pretty far down that list, but state repression is a rather important risk. Think-tanks that track terror fatalities measure the number of dead from terrorism since 1970 in the tens of thousands. Compare this to the hundreds of thousands killed by their own governments over the same period, a number that rises, RJ Rummel tells us, to a staggering 169,198,000 between 1900-1987. International terrorism may be scary, but in relative terms it’s pretty small beer.

It stands to reason that if the goal is to protect civilians the means used to be consistent with the wider protection of civilians. So although liberals are fond of making the absolutist moral argument and the constitutive argument against torture, it turns out that you can also argue against torture on purely utilitarian grounds. And the argument is not that it’s ineffective. The argument is that even if it’s sometimes effective and even if it’s necessary to protect civilians, civilians stand to benefit far more from preserving a rule of law political culture than they do from avoiding every single risk that comes with living in an era of techno-globalization in which the gap between the haves and have nots is widening.

So, my friends, that’s the argument you use when your crazy uncle starts banging on about how liberals aren’t willing to do what it takes to protect their way of life.

Will the International Community Prevent “Eye-Watering” Violence in Afghanistan as Troops Depart?

My latest:

Afghanistan could experience “eye-watering” levels of violence during and after the departure of foreign troops, NATO civilian Special Representative Mark Sedwill told reporters Wednesday, just two days before the 2010 NATO Summit commenced in Lisbon. Human rights groups meanwhile urged NATO member states to take humanitarian and human rights concerns seriously as plans are made for the phased withdrawal of foreign forces beginning early next year.

“As NATO begins to discuss its withdrawal from Afghanistan, it’s crucial to explain to the Afghan people exactly how the international community will follow through on its promise to protect and promote their human rights,” said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Programme Director.

Twenty-nine leading Afghan and international NGOs, led by Oxfam, called on NATO to improve oversight of Afghanistan’s police and army during the security transition between 2011 and 2014 and end programs that train and arm often abusive local militias to fight the Taliban.

Human Rights Watch, which echoed the call to end militia programs, rebuked the United States and NATO for working closely with known human rights abusers and ignoring Afghans’ desire for justice and an effective, non-predatory government.

“The US and NATO impatience for quick results is reducing their resolve to press for governance reform,” said Rachel Reid, HRW’s Afghanistan researcher. ”The tougher – but longer-term solution – is to stop doing deals with abusive or corrupt people, and instead, prosecute them and strengthen the institutions capable of delivering that justice.”

Sedwill’s candid admission that mass violence could follow the security transition poses urgent questions. Will the international community prevent major crimes against civilians in Afghanistan during and after the withdrawal of foreign forces?

Read the rest at UN Dispatch.

Looks like those policemen in Ghazni didn’t defect to the Taliban after all

Last week, the New York Times reported that the police force of Khogeyani district in Ghazni defected to the Taliban. The claim was backed up by statements from pseudonymous Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid and Mohammed Yasin,  the district police chief of Khogeyani.

[…] the Taliban, it appears, have reintegration plans of their own. On Monday morning, they claimed to have put them into effect.

In Khogeyani, a volatile area southwest of the capital, the entire police force on duty Monday morning appears to have defected to the Taliban side. A spokesman for the Taliban said the movement’s fighters made contact with the Khogeyani’s police force, cut a deal, and then sacked and burned the station. As many as 19 officers vanished, as did their guns, trucks, uniforms and food.

Even the local police chief, who missed the attack, said he suspected a defection en masse.

“This was not an attack, but a plot,” said Mohammed Yasin, the chief of the Khogeyani police force. “The Taliban and the police made a deal.”

A spokesman for the Taliban, Zabiullah Mujahid, said the Afghan officers decided to defect after “learning the facts about the Taliban.”

“We never force people to join us,” said Mr. Mujahid, whose name is fictitious. “The police joined us voluntarily and are happy to work with us, and to start the holy war shoulder to shoulder with their Taliban brothers.”

The article instigated hand-wringing on the part of Afghanistan-watchers over what a mass defection of police officers from a front line province said about the strength of the Taliban at this point in the war, and what the prospect of more defections would mean for the future of the Afghan security forces.

But it now appears Yasin was wrong and Mujahid was, as is usually the case, peddling bullshit to the press.

Pajhwok reports that the “defectors” are turning up dead.

GHAZNI CITY (PAN): Dead bodies of five policemen and two unidentified men have been found in Ghazni and Maidan Wardak provinces, officials said on Saturday.

The bodies, said to be of the policemen captured by the Taliban fighters during an attack on the Khogyani district in Ghazni, were found in the Sibki area of Chak town of Wardak, the governor’s spokesman said.

Shahidullah Shahid told Pajhwok Afghan News police had been ordered to shift the bodies to the district headquarters. Of the 17 policemen seized by the Taliban five days back, the bodies of four were found in the Khwaja Omari district on Thursday.

Although the fighters said the police surrendered to them soon after the assault on the district headquarters, they have not yet commented on the killings.

Update: Via Twitter, Josh Foust reminds that “they still could have defected. We have no idea really.”

That’s true. One possibility (among several) is that some of the policemen really did defect, and set up their colleagues to be captured during the defection. In this scenario, it’s possible that the real defectors were then asked to kill the captives to prove that they had truly gone over to the side of the Taliban.

A story from the other side of the world

A Twitter link led me to Blog-a-stan, the blog of an American Ph.D student doing her dissertation research in Kazan, Russia. Immediately, I was hooked by the author’s dark humor and storytelling. And when I came to the half-way point in a post titled Sud’ba (“Fate”) I stopped, and shivered, because I knew the story already.

Read, and then I’ll explain.

Tanya was sitting wrapped in a goat fur blanket rocking herself back and forth. It was only 8pm but they seemed to have already finished off a bottle of vodka and Valeria was now opening the second. “Leslie, come, sit, eat with us” she said. “Oh I just ate” I said but sat down for conversation. Tanya was moaning and crying and Valeria began to explain that her only daughter had just died. “It was a stomach illness. They did an operation but 100 days later, two days ago, she died. She was 37 years old.” Tanya sobbed and shook. I said how sorry I was to her, my eyes wide, slowly becoming conscious of the fact that I was rocking back and forth on my own chair empathetically. “Sud’ba” Tanya shook her head, “Sud’ba,” she sobbed as she tightened the goat hair blanket around her. I tried to remember the word, which I knew I knew but couldn’t find in my head at the time, only to look it up in the dictionary later and remember it: “Fate.” Valeria explained that Tanya’s husband had died five years ago of cancer so now she was all alone in her house. And she continued, hesitantly, touching my arm as she explained, “Tanya can’t sleep at her place any more. It’s just too sad for her there. Would you mind if she stayed here with us for awhile?” For a moment, and I know this is awful, but for a moment the thought crossed my mind that the dead daughter was an elaborate ruse and that they were together and felt they needed to come up with an excuse for Tanya sleeping over all the time. “Of course I don’t mind,” I said with the utmost sincerity, whichever story was true I was happy to have Tanya stay. From then on I became accustomed to walking in to find Tanya with Valeria at the table, a bottle of vodka by her side that they would stay up late drinking rocking back and forth and talking about “Sud’ba.” Valeria too is a victim of Sud’ba at the moment as her ex-husband is currently insisting she sell the dacha she uses on the weekends and there’s nothing she can do about it. Both situations strike me as things we would deal with not just emotionally but practically through lawyers in the States to regain our control over the situation. We would find a pretense for suing the hospital for the botched operation, take the husband to court to insist on our right to half the property, maybe even the whole thing. And while this wouldn’t take the pain away, particularly in the first case, it would at least give us a feeling of some agency over this damn Sud’ba.

Yes, I know this story, with some slight differences. My version has loose leaf tea instead of vodka, an old comforter from Bagram Airbase instead of a goat hair blanket, and a young Afghan man in the place of a middle aged Russian Tatar woman.

But the grief-stricken rocking, and the wide-eyed American, and the very real, physically wrenching absence of justice, the rule of law and human agency are the same. So is the sud’ba.

Two women aid workers murdered in Helmand

Buried in the disturbing story of the police force from one district in Ghazni defecting to the Taliban en masse is this stomach-churning example of why it’s deluded to believe today’s Taliban are any less murderously or absolutely committed to the removal of women from society than their predecessors were:

In Helmand Province, the bodies of two female Afghan aid workers were found on a roadside Sunday, both having been shot to the death.

The women, one named Majabina and the other Nazaneen, ran a small vocational training center called Majooba Hejrawi, named for an Afghan poet. The center, in the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, catered exclusively to women, who learned to sew, make clothing and cut hair, as well as how to prepare fruit preserves.

Majabina and Nazaneen were last seen Friday getting into a Toyota Corolla. Their bodies were found near the village of Tango Guzar, which lies between the towns of Marja and Nawa.

The article doesn’t say the Taliban killed the victims. However, given that the women worked for a small, local NGO and would necessarily have had the support of community leaders, it’s highly unlikely they were killed by anyone but Taliban agents, who would have veiwed their vocational training center as an affront to the Taliban belief that women belong at home, catering unquestioningly to men’s desires –or dead.

Someone should remind Nick Kristof of this.

Omar Khadr apologized at his Guantanamo trial

The Torygraph:

Omar Khadr told Tabitha Speer, the widow of Sgt Chris Speer, that he wished he could “do something that would take that pain away”. In a court hearing at the US naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, Khadr said: “I am really, really sorry for the pain I have caused you and your family.”

In her own testimony, however, Mrs Speer made clear he was not forgiven. “You will always be a murderer in my eyes,” she said.

She also read a message from the late soldier’s 8-year-old son, Tanner, which said: “I think Omar Khadr should go to jail because of the open hole he made in my family.”

Khadr, who is now 24, confessed earlier this week to Sgt Speer’s murder and to having plotted attacks against Americans.

He has been held at Guantánamo Bay since being captured in 2002.

At age 15. After a brutal battle in which he was shot twice and lost the use of one eye.

This entire story makes my chest tighten.