Teenage militant case at tribunal
After Omar Ahmed Khadr was captured in Afghanistan in 2002, his American interrogators gave him a Mickey Mouse book, which he clutched to his wounded chest as he slept. He even brought it to Guantanamo Bay, where he asked for other coloring books and pictures of big animals. He cried out for his mother.
At 15, Khadr, a Canadian by birth, was among the youngest taken to the U.S. naval base prison in Cuba. But in Afghanistan, the U.S. government alleges, he was anything but childlike. In a crude mud-walled fort outside the tiny village of Ab Khail, he allegedly shouldered an assault rifle, slung on an ammunition vest, and as his comrades lay dying tossed a grenade that killed one U.S. soldier and partially blinded another.
In affidavits, he said his eight years in U.S. captivity have been like a bad dream, marked with beatings and threats of rape that led to what he claims was a coerced and false confession to charges of murder, conspiracy and terrorism.
“I continue to have nightmares,” he said two years ago. “I dream about being shot and captured. I dream about trying to run away and not being able to get away. I dream about all that has happened. About feeling like there is nothing I can do.”
On Tuesday, a military tribunal started hearings into whether the confessions Khadr made to interrogators were obtained under duress, and are therefore inadmissible when he stands trial this summer in the first military tribunal under the Obama administration. “I always just told interrogators what I thought they wanted to hear,” Khadr said in the 2008 affidavit. “I did not want to expose myself to any more harm.”
Tabitha Speer, who is expected to testify at the trial, has had her own nightmare. She is the widow of Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer, the Army Special Forces soldier killed by the grenade.
“I saw in a dream what appeared to be Christopher walking down a winding country road,” she said in a court affidavit. “Christopher looked back at me, smiled and walked a few more steps before looking back again. He appeared to be concerned about whether he should continue down the road.”
Speer, left to raise two small children, says Khadr, regardless of his age, is “one hateful individual.”
Omar Khadr, now 23, was born in Toronto. His father, Ahmed Said Khadr, moved his family to Pakistan when Omar was 2, where according to the U.S. he raised money for Al Qaeda. He encouraged his four sons to fire machine guns and to throw knives, the U.S. says. The boys said he taught them that martyrdom is the greatest test of faith.
According to law enforcement officials, Osama bin Laden attended the 1999 wedding of Omar’s sister, Zaynab. Two years later, some members of the Khadr family were present at the wedding of Bin Laden’s son, Muhammed.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, the elder Khadr headed for the mountains with his 14-year-old son. According to U.S. authorities, Omar met Bin Laden and trained at Al Qaeda camps. Military prosecutors said soldiers found a videotape that shows him with Al Qaeda operatives planting roadside bombs. They said he admitted the bombs were “to kill U.S. forces.”
In his contested confession, Khadr described a $1,500 bounty for each dead soldier, and said, “I wanted to kill a lot of American[s] to get lots of money.”
On July 27, 2002, a U.S. Special Forces unit attempted to approach hostile forces in a small fort near the Pakistani border. A grenade killed Speer and wounded Staff Sgt. Layne Morris, blinding him in one eye. When the Americans finally fought their way inside, they found half a dozen Al Qaeda corpses and a wounded boy.
Khadr had been shot in the upper body and the head. Through the hole in the boy’s chest a U.S. medic could see the boy’s heart still beating. In perfect English, which stunned the Americans, he told them, “Kill me! Kill me!”
Khadr said he remembers nothing. “The pain was taking my thoughts away,” he told his interrogators.
He alleges in an affidavit that when he arrived at Guantanamo, in October 2002, guards told him, “Welcome to Israel.”
He also said: U.S. soldiers threatened to have him raped if he did not cooperate. They shackled him to chairs and the floor. They grabbed him by the neck, lifted him in the air and dropped him back onto the floor. They left him for hours bent over on the floor until he urinated on himself. They poured pine oil on the floor and over him, and then, “with me lying on my stomach and my hands and feet cuffed together behind me, the military police dragged me back and forth through the mixture of urine and pine oil on the floor.”
The U.S. has denied all those charges. But in any case, Khadr talked.
Muneer Ahmad, one of his first attorneys, said that at their first meeting at Guantanamo, Khadr asked for coloring books, car magazines and pictures of big animals. He played with the ink pens and Ahmad’s digital watch.
He gave him a note for his mother. “I miss you very much and I hope I can see you in the nearest time.... Don’t forgat me from you pray’urs.”
In February 2003, Canadian interrogators came to see Khadr. Within minutes, a video of the interview shows, he cried and twisted his hair. He pulled up his shirt and exposed his wounds. He cried for his mother. “Help me, ya ummi.”
“You want a chocolate bar or something?” they asked him.
“I want to go back to Canada,” he said.
At the trial, scheduled to start in July, Khadr’s second defense, after innocence, will be his youthfulness. His lawyers say he was a child under his father’s control.
“How could anyone think he was possibly making up his own mind?” asked Kristine A. Huskey, one of his former attorneys.
“Think of where Omar comes from,” said Dennis Edney, who currently helps represent Khadr. “How could he challenge his father? Who was he to challenge him?”
His lawyers have also argued that Khadr should be considered a “child soldier” protected under international law. Another of Khadr’s attorneys, Barry Coburn of Washington, said the trial would reveal embarrassing details of how the U.S. handles detainees, including the young.
“The administration will be making a grievous error” in pursuing the case, he said. “Facts emerge during trials. We are going to see things that are very problematic for the prosecution, the Department of Defense and the government generally.”
According to his lawyers, Khadr has suffered from mental illness as a result of his situation.
A 2005 report by psychologist Eric Trupin found that Khadr “suffers from a significant mental disorder, including but not limited to post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. In addition, he appears to be having both delusions and hallucinations.”
But the hardest part, they say, is the uncertainty of his fate.
Coburn said Khadr keeps a neatly trimmed beard, reads a lot, and “for all his extreme isolation and emotional deprivation, he has this feeling of aloneness that in ways is harder to handle than anything else.”