Wed. Jul 24th, 2024

Omar Khadr during an interrogation at Gitmo in 2003.

Written by James Ridgeway and Jean Casella

The Obama Administration (has begun) …its first trial of a prisoner held at Guantanamo Bay. The defendant is Omar Khadr, a Canadian national who was 15 when his allegedcrimetook placeeight years ago. Since that time, Khadr has been abused, threatened, and held is solitary confinement for long periods at both Bagram andGitmo. Daphne Eviatar of Human Rights First, who is at Gitmo covering the trial, deduces why the administration has chosen tohave a former child soldier tried bya military commission, rather than in civilian court:

Perhaps the government hopes that Khadrs statements, which he claims were extracted by various kinds of torture and abuse, will be allowed into court as evidence. Although Khadrs lawyer hasnt yet had the opportunity to present all the evidence of his clients treatment at Bagram and at Guantanamo Bay, whats come out at pretrial hearings so far is that when Khadr was captured by U.S. soldiers in July 2002, the teenager had been shot twice in the back, blinded in one eye and had a face peppered with shrapnel. Interrogators at the Bagram air base took to calling him Buckshot Bob. But that didnt stop them from interrogating him while he was still recovering from life-threatening wounds and strapped to a hospital gurney. Using what the military calls a fear up technique, an interrogator testified, Khadr was told a story about another prison just like him who refused to cooperate and who then was gang-raped and killed in an American prison.

Official documents also reveal that at Guantanamo, Khadr was subjected to the militarys frequent flyer program meaning he was moved every three hours for weeks at a time to keep him from sleeping prior to interrogations. So just how reliable are the statements he made, either at Bagram or at Guantanamo?

Now 23, Khadr, has been interviewed by dozens of interrogators, each time led to believe that his cooperation would spare him from violence and lead to his release. He told interrogators what he thought they wanted to hear, but that release never happened. If Khadr had been imprisoned in the United States, he would have been tried and either convicted or released long ago. But instead, Khadr has been held without trial on a secluded prison camp in Cuba for nearly a decade with little opportunity to defend himself.

More detail on Khadrs treatment appears in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and Defense Secretary William Gates, jointly signed by the ACLU,Human Rights Watch, and the Juvenile Law Center.

US forces captured Khadr on July 27, 2002, after a firefight in Afghanistan that resulted in the death of US Army Sergeant First Class Christopher Speer, as well as injuries to other soldiers. Khadr, who was seriously wounded, was initially detained at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. There, according to his lawyers, he was forced into painful stress positions, threatened with rape, hooded and confronted with barking dogs.In October 2002, the United States transferred Khadr to Guantanamo, where the abusive interrogations continued, and where he has been ever since. Khadr told his lawyers that his interrogators shackled him in painful positions, threatened to send him to Egypt, Syria, or Jordan for torture, and used him as a human mop after he urinated on the floor during one interrogation session. He was not allowed to meet with a lawyer until November 2004, more than two years after he was first captured.

Khadrs prolonged and abusive detention at Guantanamo Bay contravenes the legal obligations of the United States under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and is contrary to international juvenile justice standards. International law requires that juveniles are to be detained only as a last resort and that juvenile cases require prompt determination, yet Khadr was detained for more than two years before being provided access to an attorney, and for more than three years before being charged before the first military commission. After more than seven years the lawfulness of his detention still has not been judicially reviewed on the merits.

Furthermore, in violation of international law requiring treatment of children in accordance with their age, as well as segregation of children and adults, Khadr was continuously housed with adult detainees, even when other child detainees were being housed together in Guantanamos Camp Iguana. The abusive interrogations and prolonged detention in solitary confinement violated international law regarding both humane treatment and juvenile justice, including Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, and other prohibitions against torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.

It should perhaps come as no surprise that the United States would violate these international agreements, since it routinely does so in its civilian justice system. American children are tried as adults, given life sentences, placed in adult prisons, and often locked for years in solitary confinement.

But in Khadrs case,an argument could also be made that he shouldntbe tried at all.Under international law, Eviatar writes,a child captured in combat is supposed to be treated as a victim rather than a warrior, offered rehabilitation in custody and eventually repatriated home. Khadr was nine years old when his father dragged him from Canada to Afghanistan and put him to work helping his Al Qaeda-connected friends. Khadr has said that he never had a choicea position consistent with the experience of most child soldiers. As the Center for Constitutional Rights points out:

When the military commission commences[Khadr] will become the first individual in the modern history of any international tribunal in the world, to be tried for war crimes for conduct allegedly committed as a juvenile. This ignoble precedent of prosecuting children for war crimessomething that was not done at Nuremburg after World War II, in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, or Sierra Leone, Kosovo or East Timorwill be established through American prosecution of a Canadian child.

(Khadr is not the only juvenile to be held at Guantanamo; see Celia Perry’s 2008 piece on the subject here.)


This post originally appeared on James Ridgeway is a senior correspondent at Mother Jones. For more of his stories, click here.


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RS Janes
13 years ago

What a disgusting tale! One point: What in hell did these interrogators think they were going to get out of a 15-year-old boy? Did they seriously believe that he was some kind of senior Al-Qaeda operative, or was this all just for sick fun, or to hone their torture techiques?

Another point: The kid’s a Canadian citizen — why hasn’t Canada protested his confinement and torture?

My uncle fought in the Korean War and saw the US POWs who were subjected to sleep deprivation, prolonged stress positions and the like by North Korea. Most of these broken men were enlisted ratings, not officers, and certainly not privy to any top secrets or battle plans of the Pentagon. US debriefers couldn’t figure out why NK tortured them — it obviously wasn’t for information — apparently it was just for sadistic enjoyment. (See the Stanford Prison Experiment for a deeper explanation.)

“What happens when you put good people in an evil place? Does humanity win over evil, or does evil triumph? These are some of the questions we posed in this dramatic simulation of prison life conducted in the summer of 1971 at Stanford University.
“How we went about testing these questions and what we found may astound you. Our planned two-week investigation into the psychology of prison life had to be ended prematurely after only six days because of what the situation was doing to the college students who participated. In only a few days, our guards became sadistic and our prisoners became depressed and showed signs of extreme stress.”

— From the Stanford Prison Experiment website.

My uncle used to say one major difference between America and North Korea and the other communist nations was that we didn’t torture prisoners. He can’t say that anymore.

Ken Carman
13 years ago

Considering the state of the MSM, maybe Canada has protested it.

Considering how Korea ended and really didn’t settle the issue… one could argue the leaders of the North won because they got something, whereas they started with nothing before: they just didn’t get all of Korea. And considering My Lai, shooting a Cong on camera for all to see, agent Orange (etc.) this type of behavior may always be bound to wind up bad news for us and good news for those we have invaded to bring “freedom” to. The Roman Empire was brutal when ruling far off lands and eventually got their collective asses kicked, in part, because of that. Historically? Probably a loser.

RS Janes
13 years ago

The Korean War started and ended with each side, North and South, in the same position as they were at the outset of the war. It was a ‘police action’ waste of lives and money, just as Vietnam was, and Iraq and Afghanistan are now.

Ken Carman
13 years ago

I was pretty sure you were wrong about this and I found I was partially wrong, half right. The only “North Korea” that existed previous to the war was created, not by the Koreans, but by the Japanese… they asked no one.

I was pretty sure there was north or south before the war, but according to Wiki, yes but not exactly “the way they were…” because “they” had little to do with it.

Not exactly analogous with Vietnam which, if I remember right, was settled by the two sides too under the auspices of the French… sort of.

May seem to be a distinction without a difference, but one could argue with Chinese influences and support those who took over the north part were almost as much invaders and outside influence as we were. I believe Nam was a bit more “homegrown” than that.

Joyce Lovelace
Joyce Lovelace
13 years ago

Perhaps N Korea tortured low level soldiers in retaliation. US soldiers did commit torture and terrorism in N Korea. I am well acquainted with one such soldier and what it did to his ability to connect emotionally to people, as well as his skill in hurting others. PsyOps hurt both sides.

Joyce Lovelace
Joyce Lovelace
13 years ago

The N/S distinction is just one of the many ways trouble has been started by outside influences, cutting up countries in unnatural ways for their own benefit. Korea, Viet Nam, Israel, Iraq…………
N and S Korea would most likely have been reunited by now if the US would keep out of it.

RS Janes
13 years ago

Ken, I wasn’t wrong. The Japanese occupied the entire Korean peninsula during WWII, but when they were defeated in 1945 the area was divided, with the Chinese and Russians arming the North while we armed the South and the 38th parallel dividing line between the two entities was the same at the outset of the Korean conflict as it was when Eisenhower ended hostilities in 1953 and is today.

“Korean War, [a] conflict between Communist and non-Communist forces in Korea from June 25, 1950, to July 27, 1953. At the end of World War II, Korea was divided at the 38th parallel into Soviet (North Korean) and U.S. (South Korean) zones of occupation. In 1948 rival governments were established: The Republic of Korea was proclaimed in the South and the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea in the North.”

“We now know that President Harry S. Truman proposed partitioning Korea on the eve of Japan’s surrender to prevent the Soviets from occupying the entire peninsula. When he became president following Roosevelt’s death in April 1945, Soviet expansion into Eastern Europe had begun to alarm U.S. leaders. Almost from the outset, the new president expected Soviet actions in Korea to parallel Stalin’s policies in Poland. Within a week after assuming office, Truman began to search for some way to eliminate any opportunity for a repetition of Soviet expansion. The atomic bomb seemed to provide him with an easy answer. Japan’s prompt surrender after an atomic attack would preempt Soviet entrance into the Pacific war, thereby permitting the United States to occupy Korea alone and removing any possibility for “sovietization.” But Truman’s gamble failed. When Stalin declared war on Japan and sent the Red Army into Korea prematurely on August 12, 1945, the United States proposed Korea’s division into Soviet and U.S. zones of military occupation at the 38th parallel.”

The French certainly did not ‘settle’ the Vietnam situation in the ’50s — the war was between the French and Ho Chi Minh’s Viet Minh and they were driven out of the country shortly after defeat at Dien Bin Phu in 1954 by Ho’s forces.

“The following year, the important Battle of Dien Bien Phu was fought between the Viet Minh (led by Ho Chi Minh), and the United States-backed French Union (led by General Navarre, successor to General Raoul Salan). The siege of the French garrison lasted fifty-seven days, from 5:30PM on March 13 to 5:30PM on May 7, 1954. The southern outpost or fire base of the camp, Isabelle, did not follow the cease-fire order and fought until the next day at 01:00AM; a few hours before the long-scheduled Geneva Meeting’s Indochina conference involving the United States, the United Kingdom, the French Union and the Soviet Union.

“The battle was significant beyond the valleys of Dien Bien Phu. Vo Nguyen Giap’s victory ended major French involvement in Indochina and led to the accords which partitioned Vietnam into North and South. Eventually, these conditions inspired American involvement in the Vietnam War. The battle of ?i?n Biên Ph? is described by historians as “the first time that a non-European colonial independence movement had evolved through all the stages from guerrilla bands to a conventionally organized and equipped army able to defeat a modern Western occupier in pitched battle.”— “Siege of Dien Bien Phu,” Wiki.

Of course, the entire Vietnam comflict could have been avoided had the Western Allies kept their rumored pact to make Vietnam independent of France — it had been a French colony before WWII — in return for Ho’s promise to fight the Axis powers. Ho kept his part of the bargain — we didn’t.

Aside from the fact that Vietnam became the communist north versus the non-communist south, I was only making the comparison of Vietnam to the Korean War in the sense that we wasted lives and money to achieve nothing.

Joyce, while there may have been isolated incidents of torture committed by US troops during the Korean War, it wasn’t officially-sanctioned state policy for America; it wasn’t for North Korea, either, but they chose, like Dick Cheney, to refuse to call sleep deprivation, stress positions and the like torture, even though the rest of the civilized world did.

Ken Carman
13 years ago

I originally typed we were both right, and wrong, to a certain extent. Nam had been previously split before we got there, and it was an agreement both parties participated in, if I remember right . Korea was a forced split: a pretty bad idea. And Nam’s “insurgency” was far more homegrown. One could argue the creation of North Korea was pretty much handing those who came out of China a homeland and a land to the south to conquer.

The French attempted to settle it. Didn’t work, that’s for damn sure.

Yes, one wonders what would have happened if we had taken Ho up on his offer. Ho was a big fan of our founding fathers.

RS Janes
13 years ago

Ken, from what I’ve read, in both cases — Vietnam and Korea — the spilt was forced by the major powers. We were already ‘in’ Nam in the ’50s, backing the French with money and arms as they attempted to reestablish the country as their colony. I guess you could say they were trying to ‘settle’ it in that respect, as white Americans tried to ‘settle’ the West in the 19th century by killing off or jailing Native-American tribes, but many Vietnamese would violently disagree with you on that point. Wait — they already did.

Ken Carman
13 years ago


I think the difference here is that, and I could be wrong but I don’t believe so, the north/south split was previous and agreed to by Uncle Ho as a way to settle with the French, maybe? my memory fails me and I have to limit my moves on this weird server here. (Erg.) Of course he wasn’t happy, as all should have guessed by his asking us not to give it to the French. So: somewhat, pre-existing north and south. There never was a north and south Korea and the “insurgents” were more closely tied to China.

I suppose in some ways the difference is not all that crucial.

Unlike Korea, the dynamic behind the Nam conflict goes back 300 years. (Karkow does a real good run down of this in his book, as the book The Tunnels of Cu Chi does.) They fought the Chinese, the French: we were just another invader as far as they were concerned. Of course our pols framed it all in stupid Commies vs. us scenario, as they did everything.

I think, historically, it might be hard to frame NK that way. In many ways we went from ignorant to an even more ignorant invasion. And these days I wonder if now we’ve gone to super; and intentionally, more ignorant

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