'Stand up' for Khadr's rights, lawyer urges Harper
Thursday, July 10, 2008
NEW YORK - The lead military defence lawyer for Omar Khadr hit back Thursday at a declaration by Prime Minister Stephen Harper that Canada has "no real alternative" but to keep the Canadian terror suspect at arm's length.
U.S. navy Lt.-Cmdr. Bill Kuebler argued Canada has strayed from what he claims are the dictates of international law over the plight of Toronto-born Khadr, who was 15 when U.S. forces seized him in Afghanistan following a firefight.
"You (should) stand up for the rights of a Canadian citizen, you follow the law, you do the right thing, you stop taking your orders from the Bush administration," Kuebler charged.
"You also stop being the last western leader to subsidize a clearly failed policy at Guantanamo Bay."
Khadr, now 21, arrived at the detention centre in the U.S. naval base in Cuba three months after his July 2002 capture and is the only western national among the remaining 270 terror suspects after other western governments struck deals with the Bush administration for the repatriation of their citizens.
Harper pointed out before his return from the G-8 summit in Japan that his government is following the same policy as previous Liberal administrations, which were the first to get evidence emerging publicly this week on the sort of treatment Khadr faced at the hands of the Americans.
"We always act as a government on the basis of our legal advice and obligations," Harper said.
"The previous government took all the information into account when they made the decision on how to proceed with the Khadr case several years ago."
Canadian government-held documents given to Khadr's lawyers Wednesday under order by the Supreme Court say U.S. authorities used sleep deprivation techniques on the then-17-year-old in 2004 to - the lawyers allege - "soften him up" ahead of visits by Canadian officials.
For his part, Harper focused on the charges Khadr faces before the U.S. military commission in Guantanamo Bay, which include murder in a grenade attack that fatally wounded a U.S. soldier in the 2002 firefight.
"There's a legal process under way in the United States. He can make his arguments before that process, but frankly, we have no real alternative to this process now to arrive at the truth concerning the accusations against him, and we believe this process should continue," the prime minister said.
U.S. and Canadian accounts of the Canadian officials' 2003 and 2004 interviews with Khadr are among 14 pages made public by the lawyers, who say they "paint a picture of a victimized and exploited boy."
But the texts can be equally interpreted as showing officials were suspicious that Khadr, who is accused of having attended terrorist training sessions in Afghanistan, was stringing them along.
Khadr exhibited "great mood swings" when a Canadian Foreign Affairs Department intel ligence official and three members of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) visited him over four days in early 2003, according to a Feb. 20, 2003, Canadian government report.
He changed from "trying to demonstrate how co-operative he was" on the first day to being "despondent" on the second, wrote Scott Heatherington, then director of the foreign intelligence division of the Foreign Affairs Department.
The official said Khadr claimed everything he'd said the previous day had been a lie - and that he'd said what he said because he "feared a resumption" of torture he said he suffered during his detention in Afghanistan.
"To a non-professional interviewer, Mr. Khadr's allegations and protestations - including tears and the removal of his shirt to show the scars he said were inflicted in the course of the torture - did not ring true," Heatherington wrote.
"Rather it looked as if he had been coached overnight to cast doubt on the things he had said the day before. It required several more hours of work for the interviewer to get him back into a more positive frame of mind ..."
Heatherington said Khadr resorted to using a "classic counter-interrogation technique" during a visit by Foreign Affairs intelligence officer Jim Gould on March 30, 2004.
"On several occasions Mr. Gould had the distinct impression that (Khadr) really wanted to talk ..." he wrote April 20, 2004.
But at these times he would revert to averting his gaze, rapidly reading the posters that decorate the walls and avoiding looking at Mr. Gould at all.
"These rapid head and eye movements are described by (U.S.) interrogators as 'head jive' and were said to be intended to 'blow off' the interview."
U.S. officials monitoring the interviews - but not always hearing everything that was said - reported the Canadians inquired extensively about Khadr's family - among them, his father, who served as al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden's financier, and was killed in a 2003 anti-terrorist raid in Afghanistan.
"He denied killing anyone," the unidentified author of a Feb. 24, 2003, air force special investigations report said.
"The Canadian interrogator began to get more confrontational and stated that Canada cannot do anything for him. Khadr began to cry, and was crying when the interrogators left."
The Pentagon has said it has found no evidence Khadr was tortured and, though his body exhibited past injuries, he was severely wounded during the firefight. However, his prosecutors have admitted that his main interrogator in Afghanistan was an army sergeant later court-martialed for his role in the death of a detainee and other abuse.
Recently released 2008 reports say Khadr is now well liked even by his guards, and he is the only detainee among about 20 charged who is co-operating fully with the proceedings at Guantanamo, where his trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 9.
With files from Andrew Mayeda, Ottawa Citizen
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