Charmaine Noronha / Associated Press – 2008-07-15 22:28:40
TORONTO (July 15, 2008) – In a video released Tuesday, a 16-year-old captured in Afghanistan cries out for his mother and says he needs treatment for his battle wounds during questioning by Canadian officials at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay. “Oh Mommy,” he cries in despair in Arabic when he is alone in the room, watched only by hidden cameras.
The 10 minutes of video – selected by Omar Khadr’s Canadian lawyers from more than seven hours of footage recorded by a camera hidden in a vent – provides the first glimpse of interrogations at the U.S. military prison. It shows Khadr weeping, his face buried in his hands, as he is questioned by Canadian intelligence agents over four days in 2003. The lawyers hope to pressure Canada into seeking Khadr’s return, but the government said its position was unchanged.
The video, created by U.S. government agents at the prison in Cuba and originally marked as secret, provides insight into the effects of prolonged interrogation and detention on the Guantanamo prisoner.
A Canadian Security Intelligence Services agent in the video grills Khadr about events leading up to his capture as an enemy combatant when he was 15. Khadr, a Canadian citizen, is accused of throwing a grenade that killed one U.S. Special Forces soldier during a 2002 firefight in Afghanistan that left another soldier blinded. He was arrested after he was found in the rubble of a bombed-out compound – badly wounded and near death.
At one point in the interrogation, Khadr pulls off his orange prisoner shirt and shows the wounds he sustained in the firefight. He complains he cannot move his arms and says he had 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 son of an alleged al-Qaida financier.
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.
Khadr also tells his interrogator that he was tortured while at the U.S. military detention center at the Bagram air base in Afghanistan, where he was first detained after his arrest in 2002.
Later on in the tape, a distraught Khadr is seen rocking and moaning, his face in his hands. His family said he was calling out for his mother in Arabic, repeatedly crying “Ya Umi.” His lawyers, listening to the same audio, said they believed he was calling out ‘help me’ but acknowledged they were unsure.
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.
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 is cooperative at the beginning of the four-day stretch of interviews, because “he believed that if he was cooperative and told them what he thought they wanted to hear that they would take him home.”
“So between Day One and Day Two he figures out that that is not going to happen and so you see a very emotional reaction on Day Two when this very scared 16-year-old boy finally figures out that the Canadians aren’t going to do anything for him and are going to leave him there. He is devastated,” Kuebler said.
A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Cmdr. J.D. Gordon, denied that 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 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 and noted in an aside that at least one of his interrogators “seemed to be trying to intimidate (Khadr) or force (him) to talk rather than trying to cajole him into cooperation.”
“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.”
The Supreme Court of Canada in May ordered the Canadian government to hand over key evidence against Khadr to his legal team to allow a full defense of the U.S. charges against him, which include accusations by the U.S. 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 team 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, who was born in Canada and raised in Afghanistan, is 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.
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.
During his last interrogation, according to the Canadian government report, Khadr is shown a picture of his family. He denied knowing anyone shown, but when left alone with it later, he urinated on the photograph.
Gould later wrote a briefing note related to his visit stating 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, repeated the statement Tuesday that was issued by the prime minister last week, that the Conservative 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.
“He was tortured for their benefit and he still continues to be in jail and it hasn’t changed much, so I can’t expect it to be any different in Guantanamo,” Zaynab Khadr said.
Associated Press Writer Ben Fox contributed to this report from San Juan, Puerto Rico.
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