Rare look inside Gitmo interrogations

July 15, 2008 7:02:18 PM PDT
Burying his face in his hands, a 16-year-old captured in Afghanistan sobs and calls out "Oh Mommy!" in a hidden-camera video released Tuesday that provides the first look at interrogations inside the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay. Lawyers for Toronto-born Omar Khadr released the tapes in hopes of generating sympathy for the young prisoner and to try to persuade the Canadian government to seek custody before he is prosecuted for war crimes at the U.S. special tribunal in Guantanamo later this year.

The son of an alleged al-Qaida financier, Khadr is accused of throwing a grenade that killed a U.S. Special Forces soldier during a 2002 firefight in Afghanistan that left another soldier blinded in one eye.

Khadr, who was 15 at the time, was found in the rubble of a bombed-out compound - badly wounded and near death.

The seven hours of grainy footage, recorded over four days of questioning by Canadian intelligence agents in 2003, shows Khadr breaking down in tears. At one point he pleads for help and displays chest and back wounds that he says had not healed six months after his capture.

Peeling off his orange prisoner shirt, he shows the wounds and complains he cannot move his arms, saying he has not received proper medical attention, despite requests.

"They look like they're healing well to me," the agent says of the injuries.

"No, I'm not. You're not here (at Guantanamo)," says Khadr.

The agent later accuses Khadr of using his injuries and emotional state to avoid the interrogation.

"No, you don't care about me," Khadr says.

In a 10-minute excerpt released by his Canadian lawyers, Khadr's mood swings between calm and relief to rage and grief.

At first, believing that the Canadians were there to help him, Khadr smiles and repeats several times, "I'm very happy to see you."

"I've been requesting the Canadian government for a very long time," he says.

By the second day, however, he is seen in a frenzy of despair after realizing the Canadian agents are not there for his release, repeatedly moaning "Ya Umi," - "Oh Mommy" in Arabic - while left alone in the room.

His lawyers, listening to the same audio, said they believed he was calling out "Help me," but acknowledged they were unsure. Khadr's family, who are from Egypt, said he was calling for his mother, and Arabic-speaking reporters for The Associated Press confirmed that.

Navy Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler, Khadr's U.S. military lawyer, said the video shows "a frightened boy" who should be permitted to return to Canada. He said Khadr was cooperative at the beginning of four days stretch of questioning because, "he believed that if he was cooperative and told them what he thought they wanted to hear that they would take him home."

On the final day, the agent tells Khadr that he was "very disappointed" in Khadr's behavior, and tries to impress upon him that he should cooperate.

Khadr says he wants to go back to Canada. "There's not anything I can do about that," the agent says.

The prisoner appears to have given up hope by the end and doesn't seem likely to cooperate with authorities, former FBI agent Jack Cloonan said after viewing the excerpt. "He has probably made up his own mind that he is dead, he is dead man walking."

A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Cmdr. J.D. Gordon, denied Khadr was mistreated. "Our policy is to treat detainees humanely and Khadr has been treated humanely," Gordon said.

The video was made by U.S. authorities and turned over to Khadr's defense team, Gordon said. The tapes are U.S. property.

A Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs report said a Canadian official, Jim Gould, visited Khadr in 2004 and was told by the American military that the detainee was moved every three hours to different cells.

That technique, dubbed, "frequent flyer," was one of at least two sleep deprivation programs the U.S. military used against Guantanamo prisoners. Detainees were moved from cell to cell throughout the night to keep them awake and weaken their resistance to interrogation.

The document also says Khadr was placed in isolation for up to three weeks and then interviewed again.

"What you see in the video is a teenager begging for help and what you see is an interrogation that violates U.S. law and any international law concerning the rights of children," said Wells Dixon, a lawyer for the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents dozens of Guantanamo prisoners.

"If this is the way a teenager in Guantanamo has been treated, you can just imagine how anyone else has been treated."

Layne Morris, the Army sergeant who was blinded in his right eye during the firefight in 2002, said he saw nothing in the interrogation to change his opinion that Khadr is dangerous and "should be prosecuted to the fullest extent possible" for his alleged role in the battle.

"If my drill sergeant had spoken to me like that in basic training I'd probably still be sending him Christmas cards," said Morris, now out of the military and living in Salt Lake City. "He's not sniveling and whining because he's hurt or scared, he's just upset he's in U.S. custody for the foreseeable future."

Canada's Supreme Court ordered the Canadian government in May to hand over key evidence against Khadr to his legal team to allow a full defense of the U.S. charges, which include accusations that he spied for and provided material support to terrorists.

In June, a Canadian Federal Court judge ordered the Canadian government to release the video to the defense after the court ruled the U.S. military's treatment of Khadr broke human rights laws, including the Geneva Conventions.

The Canadian report indicates that Khadr, a Canadian citizen who was raised in Afghanistan, was questioned about his family, which has a long history of alleged involvement with radical Islamic causes. His Egyptian-born father, Ahmed Said Khadr, and some of his brothers fought for al-Qaida and had stayed with Osama bin Laden.

Omar defends his father under questioning.

"Your father wants to continue this struggle. But he's doing this at the expense of his entire family," the interrogator tells him. The prisoner responds: "He's not doing anything bad."

Khadr faces up to life in prison on U.S. charges that include murder for allegedly throwing a grenade that killed an American special forces soldier, Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer of Albuquerque, N.M.

Among the hours of videotape, Khadr denies killing Speer. Instead he says the three U.S. soldiers "just came over and shot me" while he was sitting down.

"How did that American end up getting so dead then?" the interrogator asks.

"There was a fight on," Khadr replies.

During his last interrogation, according to the Canadian government report, Khadr was shown a picture of his family and denied knowing anyone in it. While being watched by guards, he then urinated on the photograph. However, 2½ hours later, apparently believing he was no longer being watched, he quietly lay his head next to the picture.

Gould wrote in a briefing note of his visit that he had met a "screwed up young man" whose trust had been abused by just about everyone who had ever been responsible for him - including his family and the U.S. military.

With the release of the video, "We hope that the Canadian government will finally come to recognize that the so-called legal process that has been put in place to deal with Omar Khadr's situation is grossly unfair and abusive," said Nathan Whitling, one of Khadr's lawyers. "It's not appropriate to simply allow this process to run its course."

Canada's Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper has maintained he will not seek Khadr's return to Canada and his position was unchanged after the release of the video. Anne Howland, a spokeswoman for Foreign Affairs Minister David Emerson, said the government believes Khadr is in "a legal process that must continue."

Khadr's sister, Zaynab Khadr, who lives in Toronto, said she was pessimistic his situation would improve soon.

She noted that another brother, Abdullah Khadr, now in prison on terror charges in Canada awaiting extradition to the United States, was interrogated by Canadian agents despite having been abused in detention in Pakistan.


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