Thursday, January 19, 2012

My Log 285: Aljazeera screens shocking film based on CSIS interrogation of child-soldier Omar Khadr when he was 16

One dead man in background, wounded youth in f...Image via WikipediaOmar Khadr getting battlefield first aid.Khadr when found on the battlefield Image via WikipediaUnited (States) Parcel Service.Image by matt.hintsa via Flickr

Yesterday Aljazeera TV broadcast a film called Four Days in Guantanamo that is of essential interest to Canada. It is based on the videos of the interrogation by CSIS agents of Omar Khadr when he was 16. The Canadian agents at first pretended to be there to protect the kid’s interests --- from the Americans, evidently --- but after a first day when the interviews were relatively smooth, the child lbegan to insist that the interrogators were not really ready to protect him, and kept asking them for assurances that they would do so --- assurances they refused to give him.

When the interrogators withdrew, the child burst into tears, and moaned over and over, “Oh, mother, oh, mother….”

The next day the interrogators were reduced to appealing to him to help them, saying that if the interview continued as it was going, they would be harmed within their unit, an appeal that an observing clinician regarded as “psychological abuse”.

Also commenting on the interviewing technique was a former US interrogator who had since given up in disgust what he had once done enthusiastically; and two or three other former inmates of Guantanamo, who had shared cells with Khadr until they were repatriated to Britain at the request of their government, something the Canadian government has steadfastly refused to do.

An important part of the evidence of the boy’s state of mind mind was that at the beginning he confessed to thinking of Canada as his home, and said he wanted to get back there --- he was born in Canada, after all, so that leaves the government with even less reason to have treated him as some kind of visiting alien, as they have done, shamelessly ---- and his insistence, right from the beginning, that he did not do what the Americans have insisted that he did do, which was to throw a grenade and kill a US serviceman.

In fact, the film shows a shot of the moment he was found, lying with a huge hole in his chest, his body covered in shrapnel, in a room full of dead people, covered with debris, at the very moment, according to the film, when the Americans were claiming he was throwing a grenade.

When the interrogators said his mistake had been to be in the room with the other Al Queda personnel --- all of whom were killed in the firefight, as far as I could tell --- he insisted that it was his father’s decision to place him in the room, not his own. The impression left with me was that the child was far from being a convinced acolyte of Al Queda, as he has been treated by the government.

Finally, the film records that to avoid the virtual certainty of receiving a 40-year sentence from the military tribunal that tried him, the young man, by this time in his mid-twenties, pleaded guilty to everything he was charged with under a plea bargain in which he received an eight-year sentence. The first year of that was to be served in Guantanamo, after which he has to be transferred to Canada, where --- the film did not actually say this --- it is understood he would serve perhaps three years more of his sentence before being released for good behaviour.

The last news on that is the transfer, although it was seheduled forlast October, has not yet taken place, which makes one wonder whether the Canadian government has not reneged on the deal it accepted as part of their citizen’s plea bargain.

Khadr is the last citizen of a Western country still held in Guantanamo, and the only Westerner whose government has refused to ask for his extradition. Many others have since been freed, and are living freely in their home countries, such as the two Britain former cellmates who appeared in the film. One of these was arrested at the same time as Khadr, and he gave evidence to the effect that when they fell into the hands of the Americans at the Bagram air base prison, the kid was treated by the Americans more harshly than other prisoners, was covered in shrapnel, and was in terrible physical shape.

This is a shocking story, and it exhibits the amorality and obsessive bias of our government only too clearly. It leaves one wondering how such a ruthless, obsessed mob ever got elected to run Canada.

For all I know, this film may already have been broadcast by the

CBC. I have asked them if they have ever screened this film, but have so far not received a reply.

I am indebted to a web site called For the Love of Freedom for the quotes filling in more of the recent background to the Khadr story:

"After his capture, Omar was detained at the notorious Bagram Air Base, where he was subject to inhumane interrogation and torture from the moment he regained consciousness. From Bagram, at the age of 16 Omar was moved to Guantanamo Bay. Here he was further subjected to harsh interrogation methods, including prolonged shackling in stress positions, solitary confinement for extended periods, beatings, and explicit threats of rendition to other countries for the purposes of torture.

"Despite the fact the he was barely a teenager at the time of his incarceration, he was not afforded any of the typical considerations for juvenile offenders, such as repatriation or being segregated from the general adult population. For much of his incarceration he was not officially charged, nor was he permitted to speak to his family or even a lawyer. Khadr was repeatedly interrogated by Canadian government officials and CSIS agents, who turned their findings over to U.S. prosecutors to aid with the conviction of Khadr, despite the fact that there were no assurances that he would not face the death penalty. This was deemed illegal in a unanimous 2008 ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada, who also ordered the videotapes of Khadr’s interrogation be released. The tapes were dramatic, at times showing a crying Khadr pleading to be killed and begging the Canadian interrogators to protect him.

"After an unsuccessful appeal by the government in 2009, in 2010 the Supreme Court ruled for the third time that the participation of the Canadian government in Khadr’s interrogations was illegal, stating:

" 'The interrogation of a youth detained without access to counsel, to elicit statements about serious criminal charges while knowing the youth had been subjected to sleep deprivation and while knowing the fruits of the interrogation would be shared with the prosecutors, offends the most basic Canadian standards about the treatment of detained youth suspects.'

"In 2010, Khadr pled guilty to multiple war crimes as part of a plea deal worked out with the United States. Many saw this as justification for the horrible mistreatment he suffered as a teenager. Ultimately, however, it does not matter whether Khadr threw the grenade that fateful day or not – no crime is ever justification for a government to abuse the rights of a citizen. If our rights fail to protect us when we are vulnerable, when we need them the most, do they even exist at all?

"As part of his plea deal, Khadr was slated to be repatriated to Canada in October 2011 to serve out the duration of his sentence. However, more than 3 months has passed since he was eligible to be transferred, and there has been no concrete movement to begin the process to bring him home. Both the Canadian and U.S. governments claim there is no wilful foot-dragging, and blame the delay on complicated legal process. Apparently the issue is that the United States government is required to certify that Canada is a fit place to send a convicted terrorist, Canada will not permit Khadr to attack the U.S., and that Canada retains control over its prison system. This statement comes on the heels of the massive joint border security agreement signed by both governments. It is difficult to ascertain why the U.S. would sign an agreement of that nature with a country it doesn’t think is in control of its prisons, or would potentially allow a convicted terrorist to attack the U.S. An American official familiar with the case has been quoted in the press as saying the reason for the delay is 'your country (Canada) doesn’t want him back' ".

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