Guantanamo Bay: Who cares for this boy?
by Moazzam Begg
August 2, 2008
His hair has grown, his voice sounds a little deeper and his wounds appear to have healed somewhat. But what isn’t clear from the first ever Guantánamo interrogation video to be released for public consumption is that Omar Khadr is blind in one eye.
The Bagram airbase lies some 30miles north of the Afghan capital, Kabul. Inside the airbase is a prison, a converted machine-factory built by the Soviets during their occupation of Afghanistan.
Inscriptions in Russian are still visible on the walls and doors.
During the day, this place is usually deathly quiet. But at night, the
sounds of soldiers as they patrol, chains clinking along the concrete
floor as prisoners are frog-marched to and from interrogation rooms and
screams of interrogators and interrogated usually keep you awake. It is worse than Guantanamo. In this place I witnessed two separate killings by American soldiers - the subject of this year's Oscar-winning documentary, Taxi to the Dark Side - before I too was sent to Guantanamo. It is here too that I first met Omar Khadr, a boy from Canada who’d just turned sixteen.
I never really
understood why but our military police guards would always refer to
Khadr as 'Buckshot Bob' or simply ‘Buckshot’. His wounds didn't seem to
me as if they had been caused by the blast of a shotgun. They were much
more horrific. Chunks of his chest and shoulder had been blown out - or
so I'd assumed and, he was unable to see through one of his eyes
because of the injuries he’d sustained, allegedly in a fire-fight with
US troops. His chest looked like he'd just had a post mortem operation
performed on him – whilst he was still alive. He was emaciated, fragile
and quiet. But the rumour spread around about Khadr claimed that he'd
launched a grenade-attack on unsuspecting US
forces. Consequently, the military police units guarding us all treated
Omar Khadr with open contempt and hostility. He was sometimes screamed
at all night long; made to stack up crates of water bottles which were
thrown down again; a hood placed over his head whilst his wrists were
shackled to the ceiling. But, three years after my release from
Guantánamo, and five since I last saw Khadr, I have come to realise the
logic behind the name ‘Buckshot’. Photographs released by the US
military this year show Khadr when he was first captured. The
missing chunks of flesh were exit wounds from shotgun rounds fired. Its
is now clear, based on statements by the soldiers who captured him,
that Khadr had been shot in the back – at point-blank range.
and I shared a communal cell where walking, talking, standing or simply
looking in the wrong direction would earn us a few hours with our hands
chained above our heads to the cage door and a hood placed over our
faces. Still, I managed some whispered conversations with Khadr who,
just like me, had begun to comprehend his ordeal had only just started.
treatment varied according to the perception various soldiers and
interrogators had of him: most of it bad. But a handful of them, who
actually got to know him and speak to him like a human being, told me
how bad they felt about having a child like him in custody. I recall
the last words Omar Khadr said to me before he was shipped off to Guantanamo, ‘You’re fortunate, people here care about you. No one cares about me.’
was later accused of causing the death of a US Special Forces operative
with a grenade. Yet a report given by the soldier who shot him says
that not only was Mr. Khadr alive there, an adult man was also alive at
the time he, the U.S. soldier, rushed in shooting. This contradicts the
testimony of another solider who said that only Mr. Khadr was alive at
the time. Whatever the case may be, Omar is fast approaching the
seventh year of his detention in Guantanamo. He is now twenty –one.
In January this year, a training document produced by the Canadian foreign ministry, which referred to Guantanamo Bay, listed the United States as
a country known to practice torture. Despite this assertion, the only
westerner remaining in the world's most infamous prison at Guantanamo Bay
is the Canadian, Omar Khadr. And his government, which accepts the
abuses faced by others at such places are very real, will do nothing
for its own citizen, who was bought there in chains as a child.
In the video that made headlines this week Khadr is heard repeating some words in a very distressed state. Whilst there is some dispute about whether he's saying 'help me, help me' or 'kill me kill me’, his family believe he's simply saying, ’ya ummi, ya ummi’ - Arabic for 'my mother, my mother'. Although this video was recorded (in secret) over five years ago, the words I last heard from this gaunt, softly-spoken child all those years ago echo yet again. But this time the world can see and hear him: ‘No one cares about me.’
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