GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba — An Army Special Forces officer testified Saturday that he altered a field report to directly implicate a Canadian detainee now being held at Guantanamo in a fatal grenade attack in Afghanistan years later because he realized that he got it wrong and wanted to fix the historical record.
The officer denied suggestions from defense lawyers for Omar Khadr that he changed the report at prosecutors' urging "to make it look like Omar was guilty.”
At issue is the officer's account of the firefight, which for years said that the terrorist who threw the grenade that killed Army Sgt 1st Class Christopher Speer was also died in the July 2002 gunbattle near Khost, Afghanistan. Khadr, 23, is accused of murder for allegedly hurling the grenade. He was 15 at the time.
But the officer, identified under court rules only as Army Lt. Col. W, said he wrote that the man who threw the grenade that killed Speer also died because he mistakenly misunderstood that Khadr had died in the same assault as Speer.
W said he didn't realize that he got the report wrong until some investigators preparing for Khadr's trial visited him “a few years later.” So he opened it up on his computer and fixed it.
“The copy that was changed, adjusted was for me, for historical purposes and that’s how you ended up with it,” the officer said under questioning from defense attorney Barry Coburn.
W's testimony came via closed circuit TV from the U.S. Army War College in Pennsylvania. Khadr wasn’t at the hearing — he refused to leave his prison camp for a third straight day — and so missed the testimony as well as seeing himself weeping in a video of his interrogation that also screened at court Saturday.
Defense lawyers uncovered the change in 2008. But the Special Forces officer, an assistant police chief in civilian life, described it as completely innocent. He said he had seen the severely wounded Khadr in native Afghan attire — he called them “man-jammies” — his chest torn open from two shots through the back and caked with dust and believed he’d never survive his wounds.
So, he said, he wrote a report that assumed Khadr died.
Khadr's lawyers want a military judge to exclude all teen's various confessions as the result of intimidation and coercion from his very first days as a prisoner at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan. They argue that even subsequent friendly interrogations that included M&M's and friendly banter with an attractive female interrogator at Guantanamo are inadmissible under a legal theory called the fruit of the poisoned tree.
They also argue that because he was only 15 at the time of his capture and that he was abused while in detention he could not voluntarily cooperate with his captors. Whether a statement was made voluntarily is a key requirement for evidence presented to a military commission.
Earlier Saturday, officers cleared reporters and observers from the hearing to screen a 2003 interrogation video that they said was classified, though it was made public by Canada's Supreme Court two years ago and is available on YouTube. The removal of spectators came just days after the prosecutor pledged "no secret evidence.''
The video shows the Toronto-born teen weeping in a Guantanamo interrogation booth and pleading for help from his Canadian interrogator. Reporters locked out of that portion of the hearing watched the video on YouTube in a media center in a crude abandoned airport hangar below the hilltop tribunal chamber.
The video was introduced by Khadr's attorneys so that they could ask an agent of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, Jocelyn Dillard, about it. Dillard had testified that Khadr was cooperative while she and an FBI agent interrogated him at the prison camps hospital in 2003, once while he was receiving IV antibiotics because his year-old war wounds were festering.