Omar Khadr as he looked when he was first sent to Guantanamo. (photo: Sherurcij / wikimedia)

On a pre-dawn Saturday morning, September 29, the youngest prisoner in Guantanamo, Omar Khadr left the harsh US-run prison where he had been held since October 2002. At the time of his incarceration he was fifteen years old. According to a CBC report, Khadr was flown to Canadian Forces Base Trenton, where he was to be transferred to the Millhaven Institution, a maximum security prison in Bath, Ontario.

Khadr is supposed to serve out the remainder of an eight-year sentence, part of a deal his attorneys made with the U.S. government, with Khadr agreeing to plead guilty to the killing of SPC Christopher Speer during a firefight at the Ayub Kheil compound in Afghanistan, in addition to other charges such as “material support of terrorism” and spying. Khadr essentially agreed to participate in what amounted to a show trial for the penalty phase of his Military Commissions hearing. For this, he got a brokered eight year sentence, with a promise of a transfer out of Guantanamo to Canada after a year.

The Khadr deal was made in October 2010, but the transfer promise was dragged out as seemingly the Canadian government balked at accepting the former child prisoner, who was also a Canadian citizen. The entire affair became a magnet for right-wing propaganda in Canada, while human rights groups also fought for Khadr’s release. But not long after Macleans leaked U.S. documents related to the Khadr transfer, including psychiatric reports by both government and defense evaluators, the Canadians appeared to move more quickly to accept Khadr into Canada.

CBC reported that Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said he was “satisfied the Correctional Service of Canada” (CSC) could administer Khadr’s sentence, presumably six more years of imprisonment. Speaking no doubt to those fear-mongerers who suggested Khadr’s safety somehow threatened the average Canadian, he also noted the CSC could “ ensure the safety of Canadians is protected during incarceration.”

For those looking for an early release by Canadian authorities, Toews said, “Any decisions related to his future will be determined by the independent Parole Board of Canada in accordance with Canadian law.” According to Carol Rosenberg’s report, Khadr could be eligible for early release because he was a juvenile at the time of his supposed crimes.

Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) Legal Director Baher Azmy released a statement calling for Khadr’s immediate release, and for President Obama to close Guantanamo and release the 86 known detainees already cleared for transfer.

Khadr never should have been brought to Guantanamo. He was a child of fifteen at the time he was captured, and his subsequent detention and prosecution for purported war crimes was unlawful, as was his torture by U.S. officials.

Like several other boys held at Guantanamo, some as young as twelve years old, Khadr lost much of his childhood. Canada should not perpetuate the abuse he endured in one of the world’s most notorious prisons. Instead, Canada should release him immediately and provide him with appropriate counseling, education, and assistance in transitioning to a normal life.

Azmy also suggested that Canada could “accept other men from Guantanamo who cannot safely return to their home countries,” such as Algerian citizen Djamel Ameziane, who lived legally as a refugee in Canada from 1995 to 2000. Ameziane fears persecution if he were transfered back to Algeria.

Covering-up Crimes

No doubt the Khadr transfer will get a great deal of coverage in the mainstream press and the bloggers of the fictional Internet land of Blowhardia. Little of the digital ink will be meaningful, and much of it will be disinformation.

But even reputable sources will leave out many of the details surrounding Khadr’s imprisonment and torture, details that may be too embarrassing for the U.S. government, or for a Democratic incumbent running for President who steadfastly refuses to punish those who engaged in the planning and implementation of torture during the Bush years, and who lies about the so-called nonabusive nature of current U.S. interrogation policy (while even the progressive press and bloggers give him a free pass on this, because such lies are printed on the front page of the New York Times).

In probably the most egregious cover-up surrounding the Khadr case, one recent document released in the Macleans’ treasure drove of released reports on Khadr’s treatment and mental condition under U.S. control states that Khadr received a form of waterboard-like drowning torture while held as a wounded teen at Bagram.

Dr. Stephen Xenakis, a psychiatrist and former brigadier general in the U.S. Army, wrote in a February 28, 2012 summary report to Canada’s Public Safety Minister Toews that while at the Bagram medical facility in late 2002, that Khadr  ”was mocked” by U.S. personnel,  ”and remembers having water poured on his face while hooded so that he felt unable to breathe.” Dr. Xenakis confirmed to me by telephone that Khadr had told him this during one of the 300 hours he spent interviewing the famous Guantanamo prisoner.

Given the hullaballoo surrounding the issue of waterboarding in general, as evinced in the recent controversies over the release of a Mitt Romney campaign draft about his support for “enhanced interrogation techniques” and the wide reporting surrounding Human Rights Watch’s recent report that included revelations about unreported waterboarding of a Libyan prisoner, it is shocking to see the total lack of interest in this new revelation. It is as if there were an invisible censor that determined what was appropriate to report, and never or rarely to go farther than that.

I was personally distressed by the lack of coverage (I believe I’m still the only one to report it in an article at The Dissenter earlier this month), but I directly approached human rights groups and members of the press who regularly cover the torture issue, and the Khadr case in particular. I never received a response from the press. Human Rights Watch told me they would look into it.

Meanwhile coverage by McClatchy’s Carol Rosenberg quotes derogatory statements about Khadr by the government’s psychiatric “expert,” but is totally mum on the revelations about the water torture of the teenaged prisoner noted in a defense attorney’s report. Nor do any reports seem to recall that there never was an eyewitness to Speer’s death, or that documents long withheld from Khadr’s defense showed the likelihood that Speer died from “friendly fire,” as noted in this April 2008 LA Times story.

As for other overlooked details about the Khadr case, an initial look at report on Khadr’s release shows that nothing is said about previously reported threats Khadr had about being transferred and raped, as came out at his military commissions “trial”. According to the ACLU:

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.”

The references to “fear up” and the “approved interrogation techniques” are specifically to techniques that are part of the Army Field Manual (AFM) on interrogations. Such techniques are, according to a most recent article by Charlie Savage, “nonabusive” in nature. Now Savage is reporting as fact what is in fact spin by the U.S. government, who loves counterpoising the abusive AFM — which also includes in its “techniques” use of cruel isolation, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, and use of certain drugs — to the equally repugnant but more splashy waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation” tortures of the Bush era.

Savage and the New York Times were not challenged by the characterization of AFM tactics as “nonabusive,” even by people who knew better. The fairy tale that the AFM is a “humane” alternative to the Bush-era torture is a fiction central to the Obama reelection campaign, and there’s nary a “progressive” blogger that will challenge that these days, especially when the assertion is in a story on the election on the front page of the New York Times. The silence persists despite the fact the actual nature of the AFM and especially its notorious Appendix M has been documented by Amnesty International, Physicians for Human Rights, Center for Constitutional Rights, Open Society Foundation, and other human rights groups.

Meanwhile, it seems likely that Khadr’s release itself is related to U.S. presidential politics, with a thorny controversy related to Guantanamo finally stashed out of sight. No more questions, no more unsightly leaks (like this recent article two days ago revealing Dr. Michael “I-have-no-opinion-if-nearly-half-of-all-Muslims-are-inbred” Welner’s seven-hour interview with Omar Khadr). Khadr will go now to Millhaven, a dangerous maximum security prison that had a prison riot in 2009, and where the exercise yard lacks prison staff and yard fights are broken up by rifle shots by guards.

Khadr’s release will temporarily throw an embarrassing light on the Obama’s administration’s failure to close the controversial torture prison, and then the news will sink back into the turgid morass of bloated presidential campaign politics. And just like the story about a prisoner at Guantanamo, Adnan Latif, who was found dead on September 10, but was quickly forgotten (the press doesn’t even care how he died), the Khadr case will slip out of sight, and the unsightly parade of lies and cover-up that masquerades as reporting on U.S. politics will continue.

But at least one prisoner will have left Guantanamo alive, soon to see family, and maybe have half a start at a life, a life he insisted had been taken from him first by his pro-Al Qaeda father, and then later by U.S. authorities and interrogators. “I never had a choice in my past life, Khadr once told CBC News, “but I will build my future with the right bricks, and that Islam is a peaceful, multicultural and anti-racism religion for all.”