GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - Guantanamo prisoner Omar Khadr chatted happily with a pretty, young U.S. interrogator because he thought cooperation would win him a speedy trip home to Canada, the interrogator told the U.S. war crimes tribunal on Friday.
Defense lawyers are trying to convince a military judge that Khadr was illegally tortured into confessing and that his statements to interrogators should be banned from court.
Toronto-born Khadr, 23, is scheduled for trial in July on charges of murdering a U.S. soldier with a grenade during a firefight in Afghanistan in July 2002, conspiring with al Qaeda and targeting U.S. forces with roadside bombs.
He is the youngest of the 183 captives held at the detention camp for terrorism suspects at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. naval base in Cuba. Khadr was 15 when captured and would become the first person prosecuted in a U.S. war crimes tribunal for acts allegedly committed as a minor.
A former navy interrogator who questioned him a dozen times at Guantanamo in late 2002 said there was no coercion. Khadr answered her questions because “He understood that if he was cooperative it would expedite his repatriation back to Canada,” the woman identified in court as Agent No. 11 testified.
Khadr was being considered for release back to Canada, her interrogation team wrote in a 2002 assessment. Instead the United States charged him with war crimes that could keep him locked up at Guantanamo or a U.S. prison for life.
No. 11 said Khadr was an intelligent and friendly teen who always came to the interrogation booth with a smile on his face and chatted freely about the battle where he was captured and about the father he described as an al Qaeda money man.
She quoted Khadr as telling her, “I would rather be in the booth with you than bored in my cell.”
The agent, a charismatic brunette who appeared to be in her mid-30s, said her team chief chose her to interrogate Khadr because he thought “I would be more of a mother figure to him, he would relate better to me.”
When Khadr’s military defense lawyer said she did not look old enough to have been a motherly figure eight years ago, she replied, “He was only 16 so it could have worked.”
No. 11 said she brought M&M candies and fig cookies to their sessions to build rapport but that Khadr was never promised treats or freedom in exchange for answering questions.
Khadr claimed in a sworn statement that he was beaten, threatened with rape, doused in freezing water, chained in painful positions and subjected to a litany of abuse at the Bagram U.S. air base in Afghanistan and later at Guantanamo.
He refused to attend his hearing on Friday because he felt guards had searched his pants for contraband in a humiliating manner, lawyers said.
“He believes it comes too close to his genitalia in the way it’s being done,” said defense attorney Barry Coburn.
After a detailed discussion of the military’s procedure for conducting a waistband search, the military judge ruled the search was routine, Khadr’s absence was voluntary and the hearing could go on without him.
Editing by Mohammad Zargham