by Heather Marsh
This week, Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews requested unredacted copies of videos and interviews that psychiatrists Michael Welner and Alan Hopewell conducted with Khadr at Guantanamo Bay to determine his mental state. Besides the fact that Canada has now had one decade to determine Khadr’s mental state, the implication of the request is that Canada’s new prisons are not equipped to defend against an inmate about whom professional prosecution witness Welner said “future risk is actually more in a capacity to inspire” than to do violence himself. But that is not the most incredible aspect of this latest stalling tactic. Toews is requesting evidence from one of the most widely derided professional witnesses of our time, a man accused of falsifying his own academic credentials under oath, and a man who based his findings not on research, but on the incendiary claims of a xenophobic Danish writer who claims among other things that “Massive inbreeding within the Muslim culture during the last 1.400 years may have done catastrophic damage to their gene pool.”
In March 2011, Omar Khadr’s defense submitted a Petition for Clemency. They claimed misconduct of the prosecutors which resulted in the defence bringing no rebuttal to the testimony of the prosecutor’s key witness, professional prosecution witness and psychiatrist Welner. More here: 2011-04-19 Khadr defense accuse Guantanamo prosecutors of trickery
The prosecutors informed the defense that they had consulted with the Convening Authority and, if the defense filed to have Welner’s testimony withdrawn, the prosecutors had the Convening Authority’s permission to withdraw from the pretrial agreement. The defense then agreed to only object orally. The prosecutors countered that if they objected orally, they would still withdraw. The defense attempted to negotiate further, the prosecutors refused. “Faced with the immediate prospect of the Government withdrawing from the pretrial agreement and with no time to make any further record” the defense agreed to it all. The defense now maintains that the government relied on witness Dr. Welner’s testimony to “intimidate the sentencing panel” and “wrongly shielded Dr. Welner’s testimony from the standards of admissibility clearly defined by the Supreme Court and the Military Commission Rules of Evidence.”
Dr. Marc Sageman is an acclaimed psychologist with extensive background into terrorism and political violence who was prevented from testifying at Omar Khadr’s trial. Among other things, he points out that the prosecution witness falsified his academic credentials: Dr. Sageman letter.
There is no research that comes to the conclusions Welner insists on in Omar Khadr’s case, so he relied on the opinions in this book by Nicolai Sennels’ instead. Except he doesn’t read Danish and there is no translation, so he couldn’t really read it. Book review: Appendix A.
In an initial phone call, Dr. Sageman told Omar’s defense, “Dr. Welner’s proposed testimony and conclusions are not valid; Dr. Welner does not have a baseline to make anything more than a guess; and Dr. Welner’s sample size is Omar Khadr.” In a following letter, provided pro bono, Sageman writes, “… as an internationally recognized expert in terrorism and counter-terrorism, I know of no published study that addresses the issue of dangerousness in terrorists. This piqued my curiousity about the basis of Dr. Welner’s “professional” opinion at testimony. … His c.v. mentioned that he took a fellowship in forensic psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania in 1991-1992. I was at the University of Pennsylvania at the time and the university did not have a forensic psychiatry fellowship at the time. … he did not do a fellowship in forensic psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania as he testified under oath … Indeed, his c.v. shows that at the time, 1991-1992, he engaged in a full time residency in psychiatry at Beth Israel Medical Center, in New York City.
Regarding Welner’s testimony, Sageman writes, “the interview lacks the usual ethical warning to a defendant that the defendant has the right to not answer questions and that there is no confidentiality between the expert for the prosecution and the defendant. The interview did not ask for any past psychiatric history and did not review potential psychiatric symptoms to assess the mental health of the defendant that could have a bearing in the assessment. Later, Dr. Welner claims that religiosity is correlated to dangerousness – a claim that is in fact without foundation – but he never probed the defendant’s level of religious understanding, beliefs and piety.”
Dr. Sageman then goes on for pages, devastating the credibility of the background sources Dr. Welner relied upon for his authorities. In Dr. Sageman’s opinion, Dr. Welner is very articulate and quite persuasive on the stand, mostly because he conveys very positive and forceful opinions to a jury. He concluded that Dr. Welner displayed this trait in this case. If the jury was indeed swayed by Dr. Welner, which seems unavoidable since he was the star witness, Dr. Sageman’s testimony should have made a very significant difference. It is hopefully unlikely that a judge would have allowed testimony from a witness who falsified their background and relied on completely unscientific methods and misunderstood or unreliable authorities. If he had, surely the jury would have agreed, given the proper rebuttal from the defense, with judge Colonel Parrish who the defense quote as stating, “Dr. Welner would have been as likely to be accurate if he used a Ouija board.”