Khadr file sheds light on detainee
by Michelle Shephard
October 6, 2008
'Welfare' reports show how depressed teen turned into `likeable, intelligent young man'.
The reports read like a diary of his years of incarceration.
Omar Khadr the stubborn teenager. Confused. Depressed. Angry.
From the mundane complaints about food and ill-fitting shoes, to the days when he fears he's going blind. He has read Life of Pi. He loves To Kill a Mockingbird. He's learning French and yoga.
Recently a piece of shrapnel was ejected from his body, six years after it was embedded there, bursting through the skin near his eye.
At one point, Khadr tells a Canadian visitor at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, that he wants to see his interrogators again because they gave him magazines and crayons. Then in a visit later, shouts, "Six years I've been here. I've lost my childhood. What else do they want from me?"
Khadr was 15 when he was captured in Afghanistan on July 27, 2002 following a firefight with U.S. forces, in which Sgt. Christopher Speer was fatally wounded. Khadr is charged with murder and four other war crimes.
Few know what the 22-year-old is like today. Journalists are denied access to him and an independent psychiatrist who is expected to assess Khadr before his Nov. 10 trial has yet to meet with him.
But snippets of Khadr's life over the past two years are found in reports written by Canadian Foreign Affairs officials who have conducted what the Pentagon calls "welfare visits." Khadr's Canadian lawyers made those reports public as part of their lawsuit against the federal government, aimed at forcing Prime Minister Stephen Harper to demand Khadr's repatriation.
When the Toronto-born Khadr was last seen publicly he was 15 years old. Now he's 22, 6'1", about 185 pounds with a 10 1/2 shoe size.
Khadr's incarceration in 2006 and 2007 was some of the worst he faced. Isolated in Camps 5 and 6, his lawyers worried he was suicidal. Khadr was allowed out of his cell only rarely, and "recreation" meant being put alone in another cell just outside the prison where he could see the sky. He complained he was often taken there at night.
"He would like to see his interrogators again because they give him books, magazines, crayons, movies etc.," writes Canadian official Nancy Collins after her visit. "Omar feels that there is a risk meeting with the interrogators, however, because they can exploit information they get from him. The interrogators are the only ones that can help him out or make things happen according to Omar."
It's clear during this time Omar "feels the guards hate him."
By 2007, Khadr had been moved to Guantanamo's Camp 4 for "highly compliant" prisoners. Camp 4 detainees live, pray and exercise together. Movies are shown and detainees can have access to books other than the Qur'an. Canadian officials bring Khadr books but first they have to be approved by prison censors. Attempts to give him crossword puzzles or Sudoku were rejected as they "could be used for code-making," Canadian official Sabine Nolke wrote, presumably quoting a U.S. official.
Khadr seems to be a voracious reader despite only having a Grade 8 education.
"He has apparently gone off car magazines somewhat and instead would prefer ones that would `teach me something' such as science and nature magazines," writes Nolke.
"He likes observing the birds and iguanas that sometimes come into the camp and said it was `great' when the green screens had to be taken off the perimeter fences during Hurricane Noel," the report says.
Earlier this year, Khadr was still in Camp 4 and Suneeta Millington, another lawyer from the Foreign Affairs Department's Human Rights and Humanitarian Law section, took on the role of visiting.
"Through the solid rapport which we quickly developed, I had the opportunity to observe a likeable, funny and intelligent young man," Millington wrote.
"(He) demonstrated no bitterness or anger, emphasizing instead a desire to move forward in life."
Millington said Khadr wasn't keen to call his family in Canada and noted how the U.S. soldiers that were part of the Joint Task Force (JTF) at Guantanamo seemed to like him.
"JTF staff seems to look out for him by stopping by to chat on occasion, convincing him to meet with his lawyers and encouraging him to `keep his nose clean,'" she wrote.
Khadr had asked for more books and pens so he could write again.
This summer Khadr appeared to be losing hope that he would be released and was moody when Millington first saw him. He refused to meet with his military lawyers.
"At the outset of our first visit, Omar expressed frustration and gloominess, bursting out at one point, `Six years I've been here. I've lost my childhood. What else do they want from me?' "
But as the week progressed he began talking again with Millington.
A copy of Guantanamo's Child, a book written about his case that a Canadian official had brought to him earlier that year, still had not made it past the censors.
"Omar expressed understanding that this book might not be given to him, but wanted to be told this if it was indeed the case, so that he would not be anticipating it," Millington wrote.
Although most media is kept from Guantanamo prisoners, news had reached Khadr about the attention his case was getting in Canada.
"Omar was, however, particularly affected by the advocacy of the school group calling themselves 'Kids for Khadr,' seeking assistance in obtaining their address so that he can write them a letter, and indicating on several occasions how profoundly touched he was by their actions."
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