Canada Reacts To Guantanamo Video
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Now some background to that very powerful video that came out yesterday, the first-ever made public of an interrogation at Guantanamo.
The detainee is a Canadian citizen named Omar Khadr. At the time of the video he was just 16 years old. He's now 21. He was questioned by Canadian intelligence officers, and his lawyers were given a copy of the video.
(Soundbite of video)
Unidentified Man (Interrogator): Omar, you can't even bear to look at me when you're saying that.
Mr. OMAR KHADR (Guantanamo Detainee): I can't bear to look at you?
Unidentified Man: You know, put your hand down.
Mr. KHADR: No, you don't care about me.
SIEGEL: You don't care about me. That was a young Omar Khadr reproaching the Canadian intelligence officers who were interrogating him. That's a bit of the eight minutes that Khadr's lawyers released.
As for what's on the rest of the video and who Khadr is and what his lawyers want, we turn now to Colin Freeze, who has covered the Khadr story for the Canadian daily the Globe and Mail.
Welcome to the program, Colin Freeze.
And first, more about Omar Khadr - a Canadian citizen, but his family came from where originally?
Mr. COLIN FREEZE (Toronto Globe and Mail): He's born to an Egyptian father and a Palestinian mother, who themselves immigrated to Canada before bringing the whole family, all their kids to Afghanistan in the 1980s to join the jihad against the Soviets.
It's been called an al-Qaida family. The family was on first-name basis with Osama bin Laden and indeed lived with him for a while. This sort of set the stage for a deadly battle in 2002, where Omar Khadr was caught on the other side fighting U.S. soldiers. And it's alleged he threw a grenade that killed an American soldier prior to himself getting shot three times. And for the last six years he's been in Guantanamo Bay.
SIEGEL: And what are his lawyers in Canada suing for? What do they want?
Mr. FREEZE: His lawyers are taking the position that their client is never going to get a fair chance in Guantanamo Bay, so what they've done is they've fought a disclosure battle. They've been waging a protracted legal campaign for secret documents with some success. And that video played was a fruit of that legal battle, in that they've got footage of their client crying in Guantanamo Bay. And the hope is that the footage will maybe melt the hearts of the Canadian government a bit in hopes of shaming Canadian politicians to lobby Washington to return him to Canada where he could be put on trial here.
SIEGEL: Which has so far not been the position of the Canadian government.
Mr. FREEZE: No, the Canadian government has been consistent. It says, you know, we're happy Washington says it's treating him okay. And Washington has a legal process, and we have to let that take it's course.
SIEGEL: Now, in the eight-minute excerpt that I watched yesterday, we see some of the questioning, we hear it and we see Omar Khadr, then a kid of 16, moaning for a couple of minutes. Give us some context. What sorts of things did you and you colleagues see when you reviewed seven hours of this interrogation on video?
Mr. FREEZE: It's interesting to watch the evolution of the interrogation. It occurs over four days. On day one everything is fine and copacetic. The agents come in and say, hey, Omar, we're here from Canada to come see you. And he smiles and says, Canadians, wow, you know. And then they ask him a serious of questions, basic biographical questions and centering on his families' movements and associations. And everything is kind of fine for day one.
On day two they come to the interviews and it's not a repeat. He's clammed up. It's dawned on him or somebody has helped him come to the realization that these people aren't necessarily here to help him. Day three and four, things are different. They bring in a couch to make him a bit more comfortable. They keep giving him McDonald's and Subway and whatever other fast food's available at the military base in Guantanamo Bay. But it's not as full and free in exchange for information.
And it concludes with the agent's mutual frustration, saying, kid, you're not coming clean with us. You know, you're wasting our time, aggressive verbally, not physical threats or anything like that. Whereas Omar Khadr replies that I thought you were here to help me. I'm telling you the truth. I'm not lying to you. Nobody cares about me. And it ends like that. They agree to disagree, and the four days of interviews are ended.
SIEGEL: The story of Omar Khadr's capture is a story about a firefight in Afghanistan and an exchange of gunfire and then after the exchange he allegedly throws a hand grenade. That sounds to be as close to the capture of a POW and as different from capturing somebody who's hatching a plot to bomb airplanes as I can imagine. I just wonder if that's a point of contention that his lawyers have raised at all in Canada.
Mr. FREEZE: Oh, certainly. And it's also something we got to ask John Bellinger of the U.S. State Department, legal adviser there, and he gave a briefing to Canadian media on that one.
Bellinger's answer was, by our laws al-Qaida, Taliban were illegal enemy fighters. By U.N. resolutions, we are okay to fire at them. But because they were by nature, you know, illegal fighters, anything they fired back was illegal. So therefore what Omar Khadr did was a war crime.
SIEGEL: Well, Colin Freeze of The Globe and Mail, thanks a lot for talking with us.
Mr. FREEZE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.