Interrogation video: teenage detainee pleaded for help

McClatchy NewspapersJuly 15, 2008 

WASHINGTON _ Amnesty International on Tuesday called for the immediate release of a Canadian citizen being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after his lawyers released copies of a video in which the then-teenage captive sobs and repeatedly cries, "Help me."

Omar Khadr was 16 when the video was taken as he was being questioned by Canadian intelligence agents in 2003. A Canadian court ordered Canadian intelligence to surrender the video to Khadr's attorneys, who are fighting American charges that Khadr killed an American soldier with a grenade during fighting in Afghanistan in 2002. Khadr, then 15, was taken from the battlefield badly wounded and near death.

The lawyers released 10 minutes from the video, which totals more than 7 hours. The video was created by U.S. government agents at the prison in Cuba and originally marked as secret.

At one point in the interrogation, Khadr also tells his questioner that he was tortured while at the U.S. military detention center at the Bagram air base in Afghanistan, where he was first detained after his arrest in 2002. That accusation is similar to what McClatchy found in interviews with 66 former Guantanamo detainees, many of whom said that conditions at Bagram were far more abusive than those they encountered at Guantanamo.

A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Cmdr. J.D. Gordon, denied to the Associated Press that Khadr was mistreated while in U.S. custody. "Our policy is to treat detainees humanely and Khadr has been treated humanely," Gordon said.

The video brought denunciations from human rights groups.

"This is the first visual glimpse into the Bush administration lawless detention policies at Guantanamo," the American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement. "But it is only the tip of the iceberg in the disgraceful record of an administration that has repeatedly ignored the rule of law and bedrock principles of fairness and human rights. The U.S. government has fought tooth and nail to withhold this kind of information to save itself the embarrassment of disclosing evidence of its unlawful detention and interrogation practices."

Amnesty International called for Khadr's immediate release from Guantanamo, either to be tried in Canada or set free; it repeated concerns that he was a juvenile when captured.

"The treatment of Omar Khadr throughout his detention violates the USA’s obligations under international law, which requires that in all actions concerning children the best interests of the child must be a primary consideration," said Amnesty International.

"No one who was a child at the time of their alleged crime should be tried by military commissions, which have no juvenile justice provisions whatsoever," the group said. "Omar Khadr should either be repatriated and tried in Canada by an ordinary court or released."

"What you see in the video is a teenager begging for help and what you see is an interrogation that violates U.S. law and any international law concerning the rights of children," said Wells Dixon, a lawyer for the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents dozens of Guantanamo prisoners. "If this is the way a teenager in Guantanamo has been treated, you can just imagine how anyone else has been treated."

A military judge at Guantanamo last month rejected Khadr's lawyers' arguments that he be treated as a child and ordered that he be tried by a military commission. That trial is set to begin Oct. 8.

Carol Rosenberg contributed to this report from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

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