Revealed: How Guantanamo pushes inmates to the edge
Disturbing video shows teenager weeping during interrogation
Wednesday 16 July 2008
An unprecedented glimpse into the harsh conditions at Guantanamo Bay has emerged via a grainy video of a weeping Canadian teenager undergoing interrogation after he had been tortured by sleep deprivation for three weeks.
The longest portion of video, an eight-minute segment, shows a sobbing Omar Khadr, just past his 16th birthday, burying his head in his hands and moaning "help me, help me" as Canadian intelligence agents look on.
Over the course of a three-day interrogation Mr Khadr denied any association with al-Qa'ida and showed the agents wounds that he suffered on the battlefield from which he almost died.
The footage, taken by a camera hidden behind a ventilation shaft, and obtained under court order by Mr Khadr's Canadian lawyers, is the first video of a Guantanamo interrogation to become public. The interrogation took place in February 2003, six months after Mr Khadr's capture by US forces on an Afghan battlefield. The US says he killed a soldier with a grenade and injured another at an al-Qa'ida compound but efforts to persuade military courts that he is an "enemy combatant" were thrown out last year.
Mr Khadr's mistreatment began after his arrival at Guantanamo when he was denied sleep and forced to move cell every few hours over a period of three weeks – a process the US military refers to as its "frequent flyer programme" – to soften him up for interrogation by Canadian intelligence agents.
But, before the rage and tears, came trust. The teenager thought his fellow Canadians had come to help him and he answered their questions freely.
An extract from the video
By the second day of his three- day interrogation , the harsh reality of his predicament dawns on him as the agents ask about links to al-Qa'ida, his friends and fundamentalist family in Afghanistan. They ask the boy if he believes dozens of black-eyed virgins awaited him in Janna, or paradise.
Realising that the Canadian agents were there to pump him for information, Mr Khadr wept openly and denied everything. Distraught, he pulled at his hair and tore off the orange jumpsuit to reveal his wounds.
The interrogation was witnessed by Jim Gould – a Canadian diplomat who later wrote in a briefing note that he had met a "screwed up young man" whose trust had been abused by everyone who had ever been responsible for him.
Mr Khadr is a Canadian citizen who was raised by fundamentalist parents in Taliban-run Afghanistan, where he became caught up in the conflict after the attacks on the US on 11 September 2001.
Four years after the interrogation, in April 2007, the judge presiding at a military court in Guantanamo, dismissed all charges against him because the US could not prove he was an "unlawful combatant". Mr Khadr also faced charges of conspiracy, providing material support of terrorism as well as murder, attempted murder and spying on US forces.
His lawyers released portions of the video yesterday because they want to shame Ottawa into demanding his release from Guantanamo. Now 21 years old, Mr Khadr has no idea if he will ever be freed from US custody.
At one point, an interrogator discusses Mr Khadr's desire to go home to Canada. The intelligence agent taunts him, saying he cannot help free him but suggests Mr Khadr help him stay on in Guantanamo. "The weather's nice [in Guantanamo]," the Canadian agent says. "No snow."
Later, a distraught Mr Khadr says "I lost my eyes. I lost my feet," referring to his battlefield injuries. "No, you still have your eyes, and your feet are still at the ends of your legs," the agent responds.
Nathan Whitling and Dennis Edney, Mr Khadr's lawyers are not claiming he was tortured during the interrogation. The mistreatment happened in the run-up to the interrogation. They said: "Guantanamo Bay authorities manipulated Omar's environment outside the interrogation room before Canadian interrogations to induce co-operation within the room."
Sleep deprivation is considered torture under international law and Mr Khadr was woken every three hours for 21 days before the interrogation. The former US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld wrote a memo explicitly allowing what he called "sleep adjustment," defined as "[adjusting] the sleeping times of the detainee ... e.g. reversing sleep cycles from night to day."
Despite Mr Khadr's young age when captured and the evidence of mistreatment, Canada's Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, said he will not seek his return. Although Canadian officials say they were told by the US that Mr Khadr was being treated humanely, documents dating from 2003 and 2004 (when Mr Khadr was 17) indicate officials knew of mistreatment.
Lt-Cdr William Kuebler, Mr Khadr's US military lawyer, said: "What is being done to Omar Khadr right now rests squarely on the shoulders of Prime Minister Harper. There is very little question that if Canada demanded Mr Khadr's repatriation to face due process under Canadian law, that the US would heed that request."
* One of Osama bin Laden's former drivers told a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay yesterday that he was groped by a female interrogator – conduct that his lawyers say should prompt a judge to throw out statements he made to officials during his confinement.
Prosecutors deny the claims of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, arguing that the Yemeni has lied about details of his capture. He is due to face trial next week.
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