A federal government official who dispatched an envoy to Guantanamo Bay to visit al-Qaeda suspect Omar Khadr says his department lost an early bid to keep the teenager out of the controversial U.S. prison camp.
In an interview, Gar Pardy, the now retired head of consular programs for the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, said that in 2002-03 "we were fighting for Omar [Khadr]," whom he regarded as too young for Guantanamo.
"I wanted to use his age as the largest club we had to beat up the Americans on," Mr. Pardy said. But he added that Canadian initiatives to protect the prisoner's rights got lost among departments and officials with competing priorities.
Officials in Ottawa are bracing for the imminent release of classified DVDs showing Canadian-led interrogations of Mr. Khadr.
While pressure is building for Canada to repatriate the 21-year-old, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is standing firm.
"Mr. Khadr is accused of very serious things. There is a legal process in the United States," Mr. Harper said in Japan yesterday. "He can make his arguments in that process."
The tapes were never supposed to be released but Foreign Affairs was ordered to disclose them after a Canadian judge, Mr. Justice Richard 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.
The footage promises a rare glimpse inside the secretive U.S. prison camp and Canada's intelligence-gathering practices.
Raised in Afghanistan in what's been called an "al-Qaeda family" of Canadian citizens, Mr. Khadr was shot and captured as a 15-year-old combatant during a July, 2002, battle in which he is alleged to have killed an American soldier.
In the months after his detention, Washington rejected Canada's first overtures concerning Mr. Khadr, Mr. Pardy said.
"We were opposed to the transfer; we wanted him back here," said Mr. Pardy, who added that in September of 2002 DFAIT sent a diplomatic note to Washington urging that the then-teenager be kept out of Guantanamo Bay. "Our approach was we were going to try to leave him in Afghanistan."
The bid failed. Mr. Khadr was soon sent to Cuba and the fallback plan, according to Mr. Pardy, was to figure out a way to get a Canadian envoy to "see Omar, touch him, talk to him a bit."
At the time, the Pentagon was saying Geneva Conventions, and not Vienna Conventions, were in play, which meant that foreign federal agents might get to see the prisoners, whereas foreign diplomats would not. Canada, like Britain and Australia, was left to come up with a way to work around that, Mr. Pardy said.
Calling the decision a "Hobson's choice" between not going at all and sending down someone with a security background, Mr. Pardy explained that he reached out across his department to its intelligence branch, to assign a 30-year veteran with a track record in Middle East postings to the job.
"I wanted to get somebody like Jim Gould to go in there," Mr. Pardy said, describing his colleague as "more than a second-best [option]."
The idea was sellable to the Americans, but even so, "getting Gould down there was a hell of a battle," Mr. Pardy said.
Mr. Gould - who is now retired and is not commenting - testified last year at the Senate committee on national security and defence.
"I was the liaison officer in Washington for three years dealing with the American agencies in trading information," he said. "The more we have, the more we receive."
The problem with the Guantanamo visit, however, is that courts are now finding that intelligence imperatives may have overrode humanitarian considerations. Mr. Pardy suggests that DFAIT was even surprised to learn that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service - a much more active spy agency - would accompany Mr. Gould on his inaugural February, 2003, trip to Cuba.
When Mr. Gould was interviewed about his first visit in a book on the Omar Khadr case, he said he was initially under orders from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency to let CSIS take the lead and not say anything during three days of interviews with Mr. Khadr.
Documents released this week show that Mr. Khadr cried during these interviews and ripped off his shirt, pointing to his bullet wounds, recanting any admissions he made as purely the product of "torture."
Mr. Gould did make several observations as to the prisoner's physical and psychological condition, and also tried to secure some medical attention.
Other records released this week show that Mr. Gould was made privy to a U.S. criminal investigation task force's files concerning Mr. Khadr, and later asked the teenager questions about his family and armed jihad.
During a March, 2004, solo visit, Mr. Gould was briefed that U.S. military officials had softened up the teenager with a sleep deprivation strategy in "an effort to make him more amenable and willing to talk," according to newly disclosed documents. Because the interviews continued, DFAIT is being faulted - in stark language - for the overstep.
"The practice described to the Canadian official in March, 2004, was, in my view, a breach of international human-rights law," ruled Judge Mosley in a decision released earlier this spring.
"...Canada became implicated in the violation when the DFAIT officials were provided with the redacted information and chose to proceed with the interview."
Foreign Affairs officials bristle at the stark language of the series of rulings. Mr. Pardy, who retired in late 2003, contends the judges may be missing the point.
"What we were concerned with was what kind of medical treatment he was getting in Guantanamo," he said. And ultimately, the blame for what goes on in Guantanamo Bay, he says, rests with the government that created it.
"For the longest time, neither Congress nor the judicial system played their appropriate role under the Constitution," he said. "They were all saluting the executive."
Views on Khadr
What the Canadian government and Opposition have said about the Khadr case over the years:
"When a Canadian has been arrested abroad, we always have to serve the Canadian citizen according to the rules."
- Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, Sept. 5, 2002, the day it was announced that Omar Khadr was arrested by the U.S. military in Afghanistan.
"My main concern is that we have an individual in a war zone. We have this situation to clarify... [It's a] general concern we have about Canada being a platform for activities that are dangerous to the Western Alliance."
- Canadian Alliance leader Stephen Harper, also on Sept. 5, 2002. The Western Alliance was the rebel force that fought with foreign troops to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan.
"I believe that once you are a Canadian citizen, you have the right to your own views and to disagree."
- Prime minister Paul Martin comments on the controversy over the rights of the Khadr family following the return from Pakistan of Maha Elsamnah, Omar Khadr's mother, in April of 2004. Mr. Martin faced criticism at the time from some for the fact that he was not a vocal public advocate for Mr. Khadr's return.
"While the visits [by Canadian Foreign Affairs officials in March, 2004] were for intelligence purposes and not consular visits, the visiting official noted that Mr. Khadr seemed well."
- Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Kimberly Phillips. Aug. 19, 2004.
"We were not down there to proxy anybody else's interest ... We're down there in our own investigative interest."
- William Hooper, assistant director of operations for the Canadian Intelligence Security Service, in a March, 2005, closed-door hearing. Mr. Hooper was denying that CSIS interrogations of Mr. Khadr in Feb., 2003, and Sept., 2003, were to help the United States.
"We're talking about a gentleman that was 15 years old ... It's not a matter of polls, it's not a matter of public opinion, it's a matter of rights. ... The question is: Why this kid would pay for the identity of his father?"
- Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion, Sept. 18, 2007
"The only thing that really changed is that in 2006 the people of Canada changed governments ... That's the only reason the Liberal Party has changed its opinion [on Omar Khadr]."
- Prime Minister Stephen Harper, May 7, 2008, responding to Liberal calls for Mr. Khadr to be returned to Canada.