GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - U.S. forces first interrogated a 15-year-old Canadian prisoner in Afghanistan on the day he was released from a hospital and lay sedated on a stretcher, a soldier testified in the Guantanamo war crimes court on Tuesday.
The testimony came in a hearing to determine whether confessions from Toronto native Omar Khadr were the involuntary product of cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment. If so, they cannot be used as evidence in his tribunal on charges of murdering a U.S. soldier with a grenade in Afghanistan.
“That was a coercive interrogation and it was also while our client was heavily medicated,” said Army Lieutenant Colonel Jon Jackson, one of Khadr’s defense lawyers.
As the hearing entered its second week, Jackson said lawyers were still trying to negotiate a deal that would let Khadr plead guilty in exchange for leniency. That would spare President Barack Obama from presiding as military commander in chief over the first U.S. war crimes tribunal involving acts allegedly committed as a minor.
Khadr, now 23, was captured in a firefight at a suspected al Qaeda compound in Afghanistan on July 27, 2002. He was shot twice through the back and shoulder and blinded in one eye by shrapnel.
He was unconscious during much of the next two weeks and underwent four surgeries at the same hospital where wounded U.S. soldiers were treated at Bagram air base in Afghanistan, the hospital’s head nurse testified.
On Aug. 12, 2002, the day Khadr was transferred from the hospital to a detention center on the base, he was brought in on a stretcher for his first interrogation, according to a soldier identified only as “Interrogator No. 2.”
“I believe I remember him looking tired or fatigued,” No. 2 testified.
He said Khadr did not seem disoriented or under the influence of medication as he was questioned about the battle and the soldier’s death. Jackson then showed him a copy of a report the interrogator wrote just after the session.
“Clarification was difficult due to the sedation and fatigue of the detainee,” the report said.
No. 2 described interrogation methods used at Bagram during the early part of the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan. They included “monstering,” in which rotating teams of interrogators questioned the same prisoner over 12 to 18 hours, he said.
But he said the only techniques he used on Khadr were “fear down,” which involved calming his fears in order to establish rapport, and “fear of incarceration,” designed to persuade him that cooperation would hasten his release.
No. 2 was asked to identify Khadr in the courtroom but did not recognize the strapping, bushy-bearded defendant as the wounded teen he had interrogated nearly eight years ago.
Khadr was sent to the detention camp at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. naval base in October 2002 and faces five charges that could keep him imprisoned for life, including murder, conspiring with al Qaeda and planting roadside bombs targeting U.S. troops.
He claims that during interrogations in Afghanistan and Guantanamo, he was beaten, chained in painful positions, forced to urinate on himself, terrorized by dogs and subjected to freezing temperatures, sleep deprivation and rape threats.
The eight FBI agents and military interrogators who have testified so far have all denied seeing or knowing of any abuse. They described friendly and voluntary questioning built on trust and treats.
The tribunal is expected to hear later from another interrogator who questioned Khadr at that first session in Bagram, a soldier later court-martialed for assaulting an Afghan prisoner whose death at Bagram was ruled a homicide.
Editing by Todd Eastham
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