A public relations nightmare

There are many events in history that make public relations and communications specialist cringe.

Most communicators would opt out on joining the British Petroleum team during the oil spill or the Tylenol team in 1982. In today’s news the event all communicators run from is Omar Khadr and his case to come home.

The Globe and Mail wrote an excellent article explain the timeline on Khadr’s nightmare.

It all started on July 27, 2002, a 16-year-old Khadr is taken in to U.S. custody and charged with the murder of Sergeant Christopher Speer. Eight years later, Khadr pleads guilty to all terrorist and murder charges.

(Take a quick second to read the in between of the Khadr trial)

For a communicator Khadr’s story is impossible to solve for three reasons:

  1. His family
  2. The audience is naturally against him
  3. It is no longer about Khadr

His family

It is hard to get the audience on your side when your sister tells the BBC: “Pain is pain. It is up to God to judge those people” while talking about the London bombings in 2005 (source: BBC).

The biggest problem for Khadr is the audience that will help him come home and try to live a normal life is the Canadian public (i.e. the Honourable Stephen Harper). Being part of a family that refuses to condemn terror attacks with a father who is friends with Osama Bin Laden makes it hard for the friendly Western country to repatriate Khadr.

People just don’t like him

In public relations we are taught to concentrate on those who have positive thoughts towards your key messages. And not pay attention to those against your key messages.

However, what do you do when 49 per cent of the audience hates the idea of repatriating Khadr and 70 per cent thinks he is guilty (source: the Globe and Mail).

Who do you concentrate on then? The insignificant 25 per cent of Canadians who believe Khadr should serve his sentence in Canada. And could that 25 per cent change the Honourable Mr. Harper’s opinion about Khadr?

Khadr is a catalyst

Khadr is not famous for killing a U.S. soldier. He is talked about because his situation brings up other issues.

Some of the issues are:

–          Khadr was a child when he committed the crime. However, he was part of a terrorist group. Should his father take that responsibility then? What happens when the father is dead?

–          What is considered a war crime? Khadr technically killed the U.S. soldier in a line of fire. Other child soldiers who have killed civilians in Afghanistan in the name of terrorism are not prosecuted because it falls under the war crime of aggression. So why is Khadr prosecuted?

–          Khadr claimed he was tortured while in the custody of U.S. military officials. Torture was prohibited in October 1994. However, little has been done to protect Khadr from the alleged torturing.

–          Jurisdictional Renunciation: Khadr could have been extradited to his homeland for detention. However, the fact that Canada decided against it is not considered unconstitutional, it is rather a questionable constitutionality.

And the list can go on and on. A very smart teacher of mine, Mr. Bradley Mosley-Williams one year taught me, when dealing with an issue concentrate on issues surrounding the main issue. Khadr’s issue is unfortunately surrounded by other controversial issues.

Below is a diagram showing the issues surrounding Khadr.


There is almost no winning for Khadr and his communications team. The main issue is just too controversial to attack, and even if you try to avoid it and concentrate on related issues, those issues are also controversial.

Hopefully, a superman of communications will come save the day for Omar Khadr.

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