Recently captured and gravely wounded, Omar Khadr was left hooded with his arms chained head-high inside a prison cage, a prosecution witness admitted Monday in the first independent testimony corroborating defence claims that the Canadian teenager’s confessions were coerced.
After pulling the hood off, “I asked him what was ailing him,” a former U.S. army medic, who can only be identified by the initial ‘M,’ testified by video link.
He said Mr. Khadr was frustrated and crying but he never learned why the teenager was trussed up in the stress position commonly used as a punishment at the U.S. prison in Afghanistan.
This morning, a military interrogator, one of the first to question Mr. Khadr only days after his capture, said he couldn’t identify the accused sitting in the court. Now a burly, bearded 23-year-old who has spent one-third of his life at Guantanamo, Mr. Khadr bears scant resemblance to the slight, fresh-faced, teen, who had survived multiple gunshots wounds and several major surgeries. Interrogator 2 – who cannot be further identified – said he knew the boy only as Detainee 257. “I don’t believe we told him our location or who we were,” the interrogator, told the court.
On Monday, the medic, deployed to Bagram prison, said he knew the just-turned 16-year-old well because he changed the dressings on Mr. Khadr’s multiple bullet wounds twice daily and treated his shrapnel-infested eyes that left him nearly blind. Medic ‘M’ said Mr. Khadr, who spoke English, Arabic, Pashtu and some Farsi, was routinely used as an unofficial translator at the prison.
“That’s torture,” said Barry Coburn, one of Mr. Khadr’ss lawyers. “It’s egregious, inexcusable, repulsive and abusive,” that a teenager should be treated that way, adding no civilian judge in America would allow confessions or evidence extracted from a prisoner – let alone a juvenile – in that fashion. This is a witness the government called and he has substantially corroborated Mr. Khadr’s claims of ill treatment,” Mr. Coburn said.
“Had this happened to an American soldier” captured after a firefight, “people would be outraged,” said Kobie Flowers, another attorney on Mr. Khadr’s defence team.
Medic ‘M’ testified: “I had never seen him like that before,” referring to finding Mr. Khadr shackled, hooded and with his hands chained head-high in the phone-booth-sized prison cage.
But Medic ‘M’ also testified that he never saw any injuries on Mr. Khadr or any other detainee during the months he spent at Bagram that would have suggested torture or abuse inflicted by guards or interrogators.
Defence lawyers are fighting to have Mr. Khadr’s incriminating confessions kept out of his trial, contending they were extracted coercively from a traumatized and tortured child soldier who was willing to tell interrogators anything to avoid further abuse.
Prosecutors claim Mr. Khadr freely volunteered a detailed account of his killing of U.S. Forces Special Operations soldier Sergeant Christopher Speer and that he boasted of being a terrorist and al-Qaeda operative.
“He said he did believe he was a terrorist trained by al-Qaeda,” Greg Finley, a former U.S. naval criminal service investigator testified.
Mr. Khadr “said he wanted to kill as many Jews as he can … and Americans as well,” added Mr. Finley, who interrogated the Canadian son of an al-Qaeda leader and key financier about 20 times in Guantanamo Bay. He said Mr. Khadr told him he wanted to get as rich as possible, banking the $1,500 bounties offered by al-Qaeda for each American killed.
Mr. Khadr, the only Canadian and sole remaining Westerner left in Guantanamo, apparently developed a sufficiently strong relationship with Mr. Finley that he sent him a “Dear Friend,” letter months later, asking for car magazines and Arabic language newspapers. “How is everything in Washington, Hope everything is cool,” the teenager wrote.
Meanwhile, Military Judge Colonel Patrick Parrish ruled prosecutors can probe Mr. Khadr’s mental state with their own experts to counter testimony expected from a forensic psychiatrist and clinical psychologist retained by the defence. The experts for the defence are expected to tell the trial that ill treatment after capture coupled with Mr. Khadr’s age, his background and his terrible injuries make his confessions and accounts given to military interrogators wholly unreliable.
That four-week delay for further mental-health testing will almost certainly delay the currently scheduled July trial date for the first U.S. war crimes tribunal involving a juvenile since Nazi youth were tried at in military tribunals after the Second World War.