The interrogation of Omar Khadr released yesterday shows that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service agents who questioned the Canadian citizen in Guantanamo Bay six months after his capture in Afghanistan in 2002 played upon his expectation that they were there to help him.
That Mr. Khadr believed the agents were there because they cared about his welfare is evident from his reaction when he realizes that the opposite is true. A significant excerpt shows Mr. Khadr, first taken into custody at the age of 15, holding his head in his hands, sobbing and chanting what sounds like "Help me," or "Kill me" but which may more likely be "Ya ummi" or "My mother" in Arabic.
Mr. Khadr's breakdown follows three weeks of a sleep-deprivation strategy implemented by Guantanamo guards (known as the "frequent-flyer program") leading up to the CSIS agents' arrival. Government documents have shown that the Foreign Affairs official who accompanied the CSIS agents to observe the interviews was informed ahead of his trip that Mr. Khadr had not been permitted to sleep for more than a three-hour stretch for 21 days. One presumes that the CSIS agents knew, too.
The CSIS agents decided, wrongly, to question Mr. Khadr after he had been subjected to a treatment intended to break him down. The failure to provide him with legal counsel to attend the sessions amounted to a further denial of his fundamental legal rights.
The video is the first footage ever shown of a CSIS interrogation, or of any of the intelligence agency's secret intelligence-gathering activities. It does not engender confidence. CSIS has some explaining to do.
The main excerpt runs less than nine minutes but is heavy with clichéd overtures. At the end of the first session, the principal interrogator tells Mr. Khadr that they'll "get together tomorrow for a coffee." He responds by telling the agent, "I'm happy to see you." The agent tells him, "Yeah, it's good to see you too." But by the next day, Mr. Khadr is unable to eat the hamburger provided for his meal after he realizes the agents are not there to help him get home to Canada.
The following day the agent offers him a chocolate bar, which he refuses. What he would like is to go back to Canada. "Well, there's not anything I can do about that," the agent replies, adding, "I want to stay in Cuba with you. Can you help me with that? ... Weather's nice, there's no snow."
Mr. Khadr is the only Canadian detainee at the U.S. base in Cuba, and the last citizen of a Western country still incarcerated in what has been reasonably described as "a legal black hole." Clearly, he was denied due process under the law. This is a right that exists for all Canadians, regardless of circumstances. It is all the more important that the Canadian government now work to negotiate the terms under which he can be returned to Canada.
Omar Khadr was subjected to sleep deprivation at Guantanamo Bay prior to an interview by a Department of Foreign Affairs official, not before the visit by Canadian Security and Intelligence Service officers, which was recorded on video released this week. Incorrect information appeared in an editorial yesterday.