GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE (Reuters) - U.S. interrogators tried to scare a young Canadian prisoner by making up a story about a skinny little Muslim gang-raped by black men at an American prison, an interrogator testified in the Guantanamo war crimes court on Thursday.
The testimony came in a hearing to determine whether statements that Toronto native Omar Khadr gave to interrogators can be used as evidence in his Guantanamo tribunal on charges of murdering a U.S. soldier with a grenade.
Defense lawyers contend Khadr’s statements were coerced during cruel and inhumane interrogations at Guantanamo and in Afghanistan, where Khadr was captured in a firefight at an alleged al Qaeda compound at age 15.
Khadr gave a false name and lied to interrogators who questioned him at the Bagram air base in Afghanistan shortly after his capture in 2002, a former soldier identified as Interrogator No. 1 testified by video link from Arizona.
The interrogator, who was later court-martialed for abusing other prisoners, said he told Khadr he might have to go to prison if he kept lying.
He said he never directly threatened Khadr. But he said he tried to exploit Khadr’s fear by telling him a fictitious tale about a skinny young Afghan Muslim who was sent to an American prison and encountered “black guys and Nazis” who were “still mad about the September 11 attacks.”
“Apparently one time he was in the shower by himself and these four big black guys showed up in prison and say, ‘We know all about you Muslims’ ... And it’s terrible if something would happen but they caught him in his shower and they raped him. This kid got hurt. We think he ended up dying,” No. 1 recalled telling Khadr.
Defense lawyer Barry Coburn said the interrogator’s “parable” was a death threat that constituted torture.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has refused to press for Khadr’s repatriation and declined to comment on Thursday’s proceeding except to note through a spokesman that Khadr was accused of very serious crimes.
Paul Dewar, foreign affairs spokesman for Canada’s left-leaning opposition New Democrats, said the interrogations No. 1 described were “way outside the scope of anything we adhere to, and we’d see (them) as breaking the Geneva Conventions.”
“What more do these guys (the Canadian government) need to say, ‘It’s time this kid came home?’” Dewar told Reuters.
The Bagram interrogations began as Khadr lay shackled to a stretcher, sedated and recovering from shrapnel and gunshot wounds from the battle that led to his capture.
He has said he was threatened with rape, beaten, thrown to the ground, chained in painful positions, forced to urinate on himself, terrorized by dogs and subjected to freezing temperatures and sleep deprivation at Bagram and Guantanamo.
Khadr is scheduled for trial in July and would be the first person prosecuted in a U.S. military tribunal for acts allegedly committed as a minor. He would also be the first tried at Guantanamo since President Barack Obama took office in January 2009 and ordered the detention camp shut down, an order that has been stymied by political opposition.
Interrogator No. 1 said he screamed and cursed at Khadr during interrogations and flipped over a bench to scare him, a technique known as “fear up.” But he said he never hurt him.
Khadr, now 23 and sporting a bushy beard, looked down and wrote on a note pad as he listened to the testimony in the red-carpeted courtroom at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. naval base.
No. 1 acknowledged serving five months in prison after he pleaded guilty in 2005 to abusing two other prisoners at Bagram. He said he forced one to roll around on the floor and kiss his boots.
He said he grabbed the other by the hood and twisted it tight, forced him to drink from a water bottle until he gagged, and grabbed him by his shirt and pulled him roughly forward, during a brief period in which he “lost control in a slight moment.”
That prisoner, an Afghan taxi driver, later died at Bagram in a beating death that was ruled a homicide.
No. 1 gave conflicting accounts about whether the fear-based techniques elicited good information from Khadr. At one point, he said Khadr only started telling the truth after learning U.S. forces had recovered a video of him making and planting roadside bombs with adults identified as al Qaeda operatives.
He later acknowledged saying he had obtained information that might save lives on the battlefield during his interrogations of Khadr.
Additional reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Peter Cooney