Secret documents unsealed late yesterday show for the first time the extent to which the federal government knew of the conditions facing Omar Khadr inside the ultra-secret prison of Guantanamo Bay.
Canada's only prisoner held at the controversial U.S. military camp was placed in a special program that intentionally deprived him of sleep and saw him moved every three hours for 21 days in order to "make him more amenable and willing to talk" prior to a visit by Canadian officials to Cuba.
The orders, carried out by U.S. officials, are contained in the selected release of until now "Canadian Eyes Only" documents that contain written summaries of video-recorded interviews with the then-17-year-old in 2003 and 2004.
Disclosure of the documents are just ahead of the release of widely anticipated videotape footage of the interviews that will provide the first glimpse of a Guantanamo prisoner being questioned inside the prison.
The summaries of the recorded interviews show contradictory behaviour by Omar Khadr, who on the first occasion expresses a willingness to talk to the Canadians, then later refuses. The documents show officials attempting to interpret Mr. Khadr's actions, including moments where the prisoner is observed alone by way of a secret one-way mirror in the interrogation room.
On a number of occasions, the teenager was observed crying uncontrollably, and claiming he was at least partly blind. He removed his shirt to show interviewers bullet wounds, one of them still seeping blood, that he had suffered to his back and stomach during a battle in Afghanistan.
The documents show that:
Mr. Khadr was subjected to what was known as a "frequent flyer program," which moves a prisoner from cell to cell every three hours 24 hours a day. The idea is to keep prisoners from resting, making them more susceptible to interrogation. A Foreign Affairs document states that Mr. Khadr was placed in the program prior to a set of interviews and "will soon be placed in isolation for up to three weeks and then he will be interviewed again." The effectiveness of the method was questionable in the eyes of the Canadians.
"Certainly Umar did not appear to have been affected by three weeks on the 'frequent flyer' program. He did not yawn or indicate in any way that he was tired throughout the two-hour interview. It seems likely that the natural resilience of a well-fed and healthy 17-year-old are keeping him going."
During the first Canadian visit, in February of 2003, Mr. Khadr recanted certain admissions claiming "all the information provided in his previous interviews was said only due to 'torture.'"
During that same visit, Canadians agents questioned Mr. Khadr about his family. The cameras caught the teenager complaining about his wounds, his eyes and a shoulder, and dabbing "at a small spot on his shoulder that was seeping blood."
Foreign Affairs kept records of the visits under intelligence files marked "UBL" or "Bin Laden." The Khadr family once lived with the al-Qaeda leader in Afghanistan. A forensic psychologist told DFAIT that Mr. Khadr was "a Mama's little boy."
Considering him a "thoroughly screwed up young man," officials remarked on several odd behaviours, including one after an interview with a Pentagon interrogator. "He was shown a picture of his family - he denied knowing anyone in the picture. Left alone ... he urinated on the picture," - twice, and despite being shackled. When left alone, the documents say, he "laid his head down on the table beside the picture in what was seen as an affectionate manner."
Officials believed Mr. Khadr remains in the clutches of prisoners who are referred to as "pseudo-parents" who are able to influence his behaviour and train him in anti-interrogation methods, despite his time in solitary confinement in Guantanamo. DFAIT said that Mr. Khadr frequently did a "head jive," averting his eyes and making other evasions as a "classic counter-interrogation tactic."
The revelation that Mr. Khadr was subjected to sleep deprivation for weeks leading up to his meeting with a Canadian official - and that the Canadians knew about it - flies in the face of Ottawa's continuing insistence that the Canadian government has received assurances Mr. Khadr is being treated humanely.
This isn't the first time the controversial "frequent flyer program" has been surfaced publicly in Guantanamo Bay. Last month, another detainee charged with attempted murder took the stand in a Guantanamo courtroom and said he had been subjected to the program. The detainee's lawyer has filed a motion calling the treatment "torture" and asking for the charges against the prisoner to be dismissed.
Jim Gould, a Foreign Affairs intelligence official, was involved in the interviews. DFAIT officials have argued the visit was less to do with intelligence gathering, as defence lawyers have claimed, and was instead more of a proxy consular visit to ascertain Mr. Khadr's condition.
Justice Richard Mosley, in ordering the tapes to be released, has already specified that Canada "became implicated in the violation" of international law when Foreign Affairs took part in the 2003 and 2004 interviews.
The judge said the videos showed Canada had been provided material that U.S. authorities had obtained by mistreating Mr. Khadr, yet chose to go ahead with the interrogation.
Reached last night, Mr. Gould had no comment. Foreign Affairs also had no comment.
The tapes were never supposed to be released but Foreign Affairs was ordered to disclose them after Judge Mosley agreed with lawyers for Mr. Khadr and, separately, with various news media including The Globe and Mail and CTV, that there was a justification.
In one of the few observations that augurs to the benefit of the federal government, Judge Mosley said that Canadian interrogators apparently were not acting with the purpose of helping U.S. authorities assemble a case against Mr. Khadr. A Supreme Court ruling last winter had already favoured Mr. Khadr's right to view material that could aid his defence against U.S. military charges that he still faces of murdering a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan.
A sergeant's view
U.S. Army Sergeant Layne Morris says he doesn't care what the Guantanamo Bay interrogation tapes of Omar Khadr will show. A picture of the teenaged fighter is already seared into his mind's eye.
"The only image I have of Omar is one where I think of him crouched in the rubble, waiting to get close enough to Chris Speer," he said in an interview this week.
Sgt. Morris, who was partly blinded during a deadly Afghan battle six years ago, was alluding to the death of a friend. The killer is alleged to be the sole survivor of the enemy faction: Omar Khadr.
Just 15 at the time, the teenager was part of a fundamentalist faction holed up in a compound near Khost, Afghanistan. After an exchange of bullets and grenades, two U.S. fighter jets tried to settle the issue by dropping 200-kilogram bombs.
After a grenade thrown from inside the bombed compound killed one of their own, one of more than two dozen U.S. soldiers shot Mr. Khadr three times. He was severely wounded in his neck and chest. "The guys told me we could stand here and 30 seconds from now he'll bleed out ... ," Sgt. Morris said.
But instead they saved his life. And Mr. Khadr was a huge intelligence find. "He had intelligence on military battlefield terrorist operations as well as intelligence value as to people as to what they are doing all around the world," he said.
Sgt. Morris said he's confused by a Canadian court ruling that officials' visits to Guantanamo Bay to talk to Mr. Khadr were illegal. "How can you say that's not intelligence value?" he said. "He should have been thoroughly milked."