GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba — The first person to interrogate 15-year-old Omar Khadr — while he was gravely wounded and lying sedated on a stretcher — was an Army interrogator who was later convicted of detainee abuse, according to testimony Tuesday in a Guantanamo Bay courtroom.
The interrogation came on the same day that Khadr had been moved to the crude, putrid Bagram Air Base detention center in Afghanistan from an adjacent hospital where's he'd undergone four life-saving surgeries on his chest and eyes.
Defense attorneys said the testimony from a decorated Army master sergeant identified only as Interrogator No. 2 showed that the military had mistreated Khadr and created a coercive environment for his later confessions to throwing a hand grenade that killed U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer.
"You got a guy who is 15, seriously wounded, who has had multiple surgeries and that's the first time the United States government takes a statement from him to use in his prosecution," said defense attorney Kobie Flowers. "Now whether it is torture, cruel, inhumane, degrading treatment or simply involuntary ... I don't think any federal judge in the United States would allow that type of conduct."
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Khadr's attorneys are trying to persuade a military judge to exclude any of the Canadian captive's confessions to U.S. interrogators from his trial on war crimes charges in Speer's death.
Defense lawyers said they would call Interrogator No. 1, Khadr's initial questioner, on Wednesday to detail how Khadr was treated.
Defense attorneys also said they were in daily touch with the office of the senior Pentagon official overseeing the war court here, retired Vice Adm. Bruce MacDonald, known as the convening authority, to end the case not in a trial but a plea.
Tuesday's testimony showed how much Khadr had changed since he was first imprisoned in 2002. Interrogator No. 2, an Army master sergeant with a bronze star and gold stripe down his uniform trousers, said he couldn't recognize Khadr in the courtroom, although the now 23-year-old man with a full beard sat less than 15 feet away.
Interrogator No. 2 said that he was an observer when Khadr was questioned on Aug. 12, 2002. He said the interrogation team employed the approved "Fear Down" and "Fear of Incarceration" techniques to get the captive to talk. The idea was to reassure the teen he was safe, the soldier said, and get Khadr to talk to hasten his release.
But rather than admit his true identity, Khadr described himself as a Pakistani orphan named Akhbar Farhad who was working as a translator at the time of his capture, Interrogator No. 2 said.
On cross examination, Interrogator No. 2 acknowledged that the questioning took place while Khadr was on a stretcher — he couldn't remember if Khadr was shackled to it — and that his notes included this detail: "Clarification was difficult due to the sedation and fatigue of the detainee."
Army Lt. Col. Jon Jackson, Khadr's Pentagon-paid defense lawyer, said testimony would show that Khadr was first questioned within just 12 hours of his transfer from the U.S. field hospital to the detention center.
Interrogator No. 2 said he learned that Khadr's chief interrogator was later convicted of detainee abuse at a military court martial.
Canadian reports have identified that interrogator by name. He pleaded guilty in September 2005 to mistreatment and assault of detainees at Bagram. He was sentenced to five months in jail.
Army Col. Donna Hershey, who testified that she set up the hospital as the first head nurse, said Khadr was in her hospital's care for two weeks, that he arrived unconscious on a breathing tube and received four surgeries to his eyes, back and legs before he was released to the detention center.
She read from his chart, noting that he had received pain management medication and that a day before his release, on Aug. 11, 2002, he was down to have his postsurgical staples and stitches removed. No interrogations were allowed inside her hospital, she said. On occasion, she added, interrogators would appear on the wards to try to do so. She turned them away.
(Rosenberg reports for The Miami Herald)
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