Omar Khadr: The interrogation
Video captures righteous indignation
Colin Freeze and Omar El Akkad
Globe and Mail Update
July 15, 2008 at 8:04 AM EDT
Before the rage, the resignation and the tears, came the trust. Teenaged prisoner Omar Khadr seemed sure that his countrymen from Canada had come to Cuba to help him and spoke freely when they asked questions.
On the second day, the reality almost visibly dawned on his face. Agents had asked about his links to al-Qaeda, about his friends and family in Afghanistan, about whether he really thought dozens of black-eyed virgins awaited him in janna, or paradise.
The teenager realized the obvious. The Canadian agents weren't there to help. They were there to mine him for information. So he wept. He denied everything. He pulled at his hair and pulled down his orange prisoner's suit. He showed his war wounds, which nearly killed him during a battle with U.S. soldiers six months earlier.
From behind the flaps of a ventilation shaft, a hidden camera caught all the rage and righteous indignation of Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen raised by fundamentalist parents in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. The 16-year-old al-Qaeda suspect and Guantanamo Bay detainee was facing allegations that he murdered a U.S. soldier.
After a series of Canadian court orders, remarkable footage of federal agents questioning Mr. Khadr was released Tuesday morning - starting with an eight-minute highlight reel released at 5 a.m., and a full seven hours of footage to come later in the afternoon.
The largest portion of the eight-minute segment shows a sobbing Mr. Khadr with his head buried in his hands, repeatedly moaning "help me, help me."
The grainy footage marks the first video of a Guantanamo Bay interrogation. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service prefers to describe the meetings as "interviews".
Mr. Khadr sits in one small room for the first half of the released footage. There is little in the first room other than a desk and vents in the walls. In another room, he sits on a small couch. The rooms are similar to rooms currently in the Guantanamo prison camps. Reporters were given a tour of such a room earlier this year. The military uses the word "reservation" to refer to prisoners' meetings with interrogators — the rooms are where the "reservations" take place.
During the meetings, Mr. Khadr wears an orange jumpsuit — at the time, the orange uniforms were synonymous with all Guantanamo prisoners. Today, the orange uniform is reserved for the most unco-operative prisoners. Mr. Khadr today wears the white uniform of the most compliant prisoners.
Mr. Khadr's mood varies from dejected to hopeless for much of the released footage. At one point he lifts his shirt over his head to show extensive wounds he suffered during the 2002 Afghan firefight where he was captured.
"You say this is healthy?" he tells his interrogator. "I can't move my arm."
His interrogator, whose face is obscured by a black circle as per government security rules, is not sympathetic.
"You look like you're doing well to me," he replies. "I'm not a doctor but I think you're getting good medical care."
In another part of the footage, Mr. Khadr says "I lost my eyes. I lost my feet," referring to his injuries.
"No, you still have your eyes, and your feet are still at the ends of your legs," his interrogator replies.
Mr. Khadr's mood appears to have gotten significantly worse between one set of interviews and the next, something that causes his interrogator much frustration.
The interrogator tells Mr. Khadr that he understands the situation is stressful, but by using a strategy of non-co-operation he isn't helping himself.
At one point, the interrogator talks to Mr. Khadr about the detained Canadian's wish to go home. The interrogator says he can't help Mr. Khadr with that, but suggests Mr. Khadr help him stay in Guantanamo.
"The weather's nice [in Guantanamo]," the interrogator says. "No snow."
The joke falls flat.
The footage is part of more than seven hours that was released by the government to Mr. Khadr's lawyers. The rest of the footage is expected to be released later Tuesday.
"The videos do not show Omar Khadr being tortured or mistreated during the interrogations," Mr. Khadr's Canadian lawyer, Nathan Whitling, said in a press release accompanying the video. "As documents released last week show, Guantanamo Bay authorities manipulated Omar's environment outside the interrogation room before Canadian interrogations to induce co-operation within the interrogation room."
Documents made public last week show that Mr. Khadr was subjected to weeks of sleep deprivation by U.S. military officials before being interviewed by Canadian officials, and that the Canadians were aware of the sleep deprivation.
Mr. Khadr was sent to Guantanamo after being captured in Afghanistan in 2002. The footage, compiled from three days of interviews taped six months after his capture, is being released by his defence team. Edmonton lawyers Mr. Whitling and Dennis Edney, who fought a successful legal battle for the DVDs to be disclosed, now hope to shame Canadian politicians into lobbying Washington for the repatriation of the now-21-year-old, still jailed, but not convicted after six years.
The video will allow the public its first glimpse of an interview undertaken inside the U.S. military jail for terrorism suspects that operates on leased land in Cuba. It is also the first footage ever shown of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service in action during its 24-year history.
Three CSIS agents were sent down to question Mr. Khadr, not to lend any sympathy to him. Their mission was to gather information that might safeguard national security. Visuals of the agents' faces and audio of certain questions are edited out for security reasons.
A Department of Foreign Affairs official was along for the interviews, and had a role split between gathering intelligence and ascertaining the prisoner's well being. DFAIT's Jim Gould later wrote a briefing note 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.
Ottawa has been bracing for the video's release for weeks. Various government agencies have been coordinating their talking points in response to the footage – while both the government and Mr. Khadr's defence lawyers agree that the footage does not show Mr. Khadr being tortured or mistreated, both have a keen interest in the Canadian public's response to the video.
Mr. Khadr's defence team released the eight-minute "highlight reel" shortly before 6 a.m. Ottawa time Tuesday – in time for most morning news shows. Canadian news web sites quickly carried copies of the video.
Ottawa, too, is paying attention. When a reporter called CSIS's media line early Tuesday morning, news coverage of the Khadr tape could be heard from televisions in the background.
The rest of the world is also watching. Within hours of the video's release, news stories began to surface around the planet, including on the front pages of The New York Times and BBC web sites.
- Hussam Ayloush
- Hussam has been a lifelong human rights activist who is passionate about promoting democratic societies, in the US and worldwide, in which all people, including immigrants, workers, minorities, and the poor enjoy freedom, justice, economic justice, respect, and equality. Mr. Ayloush frequently lectures on Islam, media relations, civil rights, hate crimes and international affairs. He has consistently appeared in local, national, and international media. Full biography at: http://hussamayloush.blogspot.com/2006/08/biography-of-hussam-ayloush.html