GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - Canadian captive Omar Khadr was hooded, crying and chained to a door outside his cell in Afghanistan around the time he turned 16, a former U.S. medic testified on Monday in the Guantanamo war crimes tribunal.
The former Army medic, identified only as M, testified in a hearing to determine whether Khadr was coerced into confessing that he threw a grenade that killed a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan.
Khadr, now 23, was 15 when captured in a firefight at a suspected al Qaeda compound in Afghanistan in 2002 and would be the first person tried in a U.S. war crimes tribunal for acts allegedly committed as a minor. It would also be the first tribunal under a law President Barack Obama signed in 2009 banning evidence obtained through inhumane treatment.
Medic M treated Khadr’s gunshot wounds and shrapnel injuries at the detention center at the Bagram U.S. air base in Afghanistan between mid-August and late October 2002, during which time Khadr turned 16.
He described once finding Khadr standing in the entryway outside his cell with his hands chained to the metal-mesh door just above eye level.
“We pulled off the hood that was over his head and I asked him what was ailing him, if there was some type of medical issue he might be having,” M testified by video link from an undisclosed location. “I then noted that he was crying.”
Khadr seemed frustrated and “not very cordial,” M said, adding, “I had never seen him like that before.”
He said such treatment was common punishment for prisoners held at Bagram during the early part of the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan but that he did not know why Khadr was being disciplined.
“He did not mention whether he was in any particular pain,” M testified.
The Toronto native was shot twice through the back and shoulder during the battle that led to his capture, and blinded in one eye by shrapnel. The medic said he was “amazed” at how quickly Khadr’s wounds healed and that he would have alerted supervisors if he thought chaining him to the door would aggravate his injuries.
After the hearing, defense lawyer Barry Coburn called that treatment “repulsive, abusive” and “torture.”
Defense attorneys plan to call psychiatrists to testify that Khadr’s youth and injuries made him especially vulnerable and likely to give false confessions. The judge ordered that government psychiatrists first be allowed to examine Khadr , a development that could delay his July trial date.
Khadr was sent to the detention camp at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. naval base in October 2002 and faces five charges that could keep him imprisoned for life, including murder, conspiring with al Qaeda and planting roadside bombs targeting U.S. troops.
Khadr claims that during interrogations in Afghanistan and Guantanamo, he was beaten, chained in painful positions, forced to urinate on himself, terrorized by dogs, and subjected to freezing temperatures, sleep deprivation and rape threats.
The six military interrogators and FBI agents who have testified over the last week said they never saw abuse. They described serving tea, cookies and candy in friendly interviews during which Khadr repeatedly admitted throwing the grenade that killed Sergeant First Class Christopher Speer.
“He said that he did believe he was a terrorist trained by al Qaeda,” naval investigator Greg Finley testified on Monday. “He just wanted to kill as many Jews as he can. He wanted to kill as many Americans as well.”
Finley said he interrogated Khadr 20 times at Guantanamo in late 2002 and developed such good rapport that after he left, Khadr wrote him a letter asking for car magazines and inquiring about the status of his case.
The letter began, “Dear friend, How are you and how is everything in Washington?”
The tribunal is expected to hear later from the first military interrogator to question Khadr at Bagram, a soldier later court-martialed for assaulting an Afghan prisoner whose death at Bagram was ruled a homicide.
Editing by Eric Walsh