Bombshell Testimony from Bagram Interrogator Convicted of Abuse, Reporters Banned from Gitmo for Reporting his Name
On Thursday, pretrial hearings continued in the case of Canadian Omar Khadr, who has spent a third of his life in U.S. detention since he was captured at age 15. Though the Obama administration has claimed it intends to erase the taint of torture and abuse from the Bush-era Guantánamo military commissions, the government is trying to use evidence coerced out of the teenage boy in an illegitimate trial eight years later.
Thursday brought much-anticipated testimony from Khadr’s primary interrogator for the three months the teenager was detained at Bagram, before his transfer here in October 2002. Referred to only as “Interrogator One,” a military judge issued an order protecting the interrogator’s name, though his identity has been widely reported. Two years ago, he gave an on-the-record interview with the Toronto Star, in which he discussed his intention to testify in Khadr’s case and consented to the publication of his name.
Interrogator One said he interrogated Khadr about 20-25 times, more than anyone else, totaling about 50-100 hours of interrogation. He added that he first interrogated Khadr when the 15-year-old was sedated and lying handcuffed on a stretcher, about two weeks after he was brought to Bagram with multiple gunshot and shrapnel wounds.
In bombshell testimony, Interrogator One described a “fictitious story” he told the 15-year-old about an Afghan they sent to prison in America because he was lying. Interrogator One said he told Khadr that “a bunch of big black guys and big Nazis,” patriotic and angry about the 9/11 attacks, “noticed the little Muslim” because he “speaks a different language, prays five times a day.” He said he told Khadr, “This poor little kid, away from home, kind of isolated,” was “in the shower by himself and these four big black guys show up, and say ‘we know about you Muslims.’ They caught him in the shower and raped him. The kid got hurt and we think he ended up dying.”
Interrogator One also explained the approved interrogation techniques he used on Khadr to extract information, including “fear up,” “fear up harsh,” “fear of incarceration,” “pride and ego down,” and “love of family.” During interrogations, using the “fear up” technique, he flipped a bench to terrify Khadr, “got in his face, screamed at him,” and “cussed because I knew he didn’t like it.” For the “love of family” technique, he threatened Khadr with being “stuck in a cage” and barred from seeing his family again or returning home to Canada if he didn’t provide information.
In 2005, Interrogator One pled guilty to prisoner abuse at Bagram, in connection with the death of a detainee two months after Khadr was transferred to Guantánamo. He was convicted of forcing a detainee to roll around on the ground and kiss interrogators’ boots. He also pled guilty to twisting the bottom of a hood around another prisoner’s neck and forcing him to drink a bottle of water, causing him to gag and choke. He was sentenced to five months’ imprisonment. It was revealed in Thursday’s hearing that he had received this reduced sentence because of a 2006 clemency recommendation by the prosecutors in Khadr’s case, in exchange for his assistance in that case.
Clearly an experienced witness, Interrogator One replied, “I don’t specifically recall” to most of the defense’s questions about abuse he may have inflicted on Khadr. Observing his testimony, I felt that his evasiveness and fading memory probably thwarted a full accounting of Khadr’s treatment at Bagram. If so, the military commissions have yet again allowed the government to conceal details of its mistreatment of prisoners from the public.
After Thursday’s hearing, four reporters were banned from future military commissions proceedings for reporting Interrogator One’s name in articles written the day before he testified. A letter from the Office of the Secretary Defense press affairs division informed them they are banned from returning to Guantánamo because they violated Pentagon ground rules by reporting the name of a protected witness.
The four banned journalists, Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald, Michelle Shephard of the Toronto Star, Paul Koring of the Globe and Mail and Steven Edwards of Canwest News Service, were the most dogged reporters of Khadr’s case. Shephard wrote the most comprehensive account of Khadr’s life, the book Guantánamo’s Child. Rosenberg is the most tenacious reporter covering the Guantánamo military commissions — she has spent more time at the base than any other reporter. All four had already written and filed the stories naming Interrogator One before the military judge issued a warning from the bench that reports shouldn’t disclose the interrogator’s name. In articles submitted after the judge’s warning they did not name him.
The banning of the four journalists most committed to reporting on Khadr’s case makes these discredited military commission proceedings even less transparent. Ironically, over the course of the last two weeks of proceedings the military judge, Col. Patrick Parrish, repeatedly mentioned his commitment to transparency.
That reporters are being punished for disclosing information that has been publicly available for years is absurd. And it is ridiculous that the Pentagon would retroactively censor information that has been in the public domain for years. Interrogator One’s name is a matter of public record. Banning the use of his name now—when it was widely reported long ago—serves no apparent purpose other than to raise more questions about the transparency and illegitimacy of the Guantánamo military commissions.
The banning of reporters from Gitmo is yet another entry to the long list of reasons why the military commissions ought to be shut down for good.