How Canada Has Hidden the Truth About Omar Khadr: US War Crimes, Institutional Racism and Media Failures

2.11.13

I’m cross-posting below an excellent article about Omar Khadr, the child prisoner held at Guantánamo for ten years, from 2002 to 2012, written by Heather Marsh, a journalist and activist who ran WikiLeaks Central, the WikiLeaks news site, from 2010 to 2012. Omar, who was just 15 years old when he was seized in Afghanistan after a firefight with US Special Forces in July 2002, was returned to Canada in September 2012 as the result of a plea deal negotiated in Guantánamo, in which, in exchange for admitting killing a US soldier with a grenade (which was almost certainly untrue), Omar received an eight-year sentence in October 2010, with one year to be served in Guantánamo, and seven in Canada.

Heather’s article was initially published on the Free Omar Khadr website that she runs with Aaf Post, between a court hearing that Omar had on September 23, and the ruling on October 18. She also thanked the Free Omar Khadr group for research assistanceAs I explained in an article after the ruling, in the initial submission in August, and in the hearing in September, his lawyer, Dennis Edney, sought his transfer from a maximum security prison (where he is currently held) to a provincial prison, arguing that an eight-year sentence ought to have been regarded as a youth sentence (because a life sentence is mandatory for an adult murder conviction), and therefore Khadr should not have been sent to a maximum security prison in the first place.

However, in delivering his ruling, Justice John Rooke refused to allow Khadr to be moved. Although he agreed that eight years was not an adult sentence for murder, he accepted eight years as an appropriate punishment for the other four war crimes that Khadr agreed to in his plea deal.

Edney plans to appeal, but in the meantime Heather’s article is a powerful analysis of the lies and distortions used to continue holding Omar, and to erode what would obviously be sympathy for him if he were someone from a different background who was manipulated by his father whilst a juvenile. I was particularly impressed with Heather’s research into the deficiencies in the statements of the witnesses who were present at the time of the firelight and Omar’s capture, and I commend her detailed analysis of bias in the Canadian media, including that bastion of liberalism, the Toronto Star.

I must mention, though, that I have no particular complaint against Michelle Shephard, the journalist who has covered Omar’s story for the Star for many years, and whose reporting has often proved very useful to me. Nevertheless, Heather is correct to identify biased reporting throughout the mainstream media, including in the liberal media. This is something that concerns me about much mainstream reporting here in the UK as well — as seen in much of the BBC’s editorial stance since it was set upon by Tony Blair and Alistair Campbell in the run-up to the illegal invasion of Iraq — although my most regular disappointment with the mainstream liberal media centers on their obsession with so-called “objectivity,” in which, by perpetually trying not to put forward a particular point of view, even about the most horrendous crimes committed by, for example, the US government, those in charge succeed only in playing into the hands of the right-wing media, who have no problem with broadcasting and printing lies and propaganda on a regular basis.

The silence surrounding Omar Khadr
By Heather Marsh, Georgie BC’s Blog, October 8, 2013

Omar Khadr was a Canadian kid caught in a firefight in Afghanistan in 2002. He was captured by the US and tortured at Bagram and Guantánamo for ten years. Eventually, he signed a plea deal admitting guilt in killing Special Forces Sergeant First Class Christopher Speer during the battle. He continues his legal saga in solitary confinement in Canada.

Omar was not supposed to be in the compound on the day he was injured. A family acquaintance had taken 15 year old Omar with him as a translator as he was fluent in four languages. According to multiple sources close to him, Omar says he was the first person wounded in the attack on the compound he was in. He says the others carried him to shelter throughout the hours of fighting until he was shot twice in the back. He survived so long because he was not in the active fighting.

His story, the only firsthand account possible, still has not been heard by the Canadian public or Canadian courts. It can’t be heard at this point because if he says he didn’t throw the grenade the parole board will say he is not taking responsibility for his actions. If he talks about his captivity, the US military will call it recidivism as they have in the past when Guantánamo victims were released and spoke about their experiences.

At Guantánamo, his conversations with other captives, guards and even his lawyers were strictly controlled. His defence counsel Dennis Edney says he was repeatedly dragged off to a cell by guards simply for asking his client, “What’s wrong?” Edney was accompanied to the washroom by guards and if he had been discovered smuggling news to Omar (which he did) he would have faced thirty years in a US prison himself. Omar’s counsel were even prevented from playing dominos and chess during counsel visits. “There was no attorney-client privilege,” says Edney.

Omar refused for eight years to sign a plea deal confessing his guilt to a crime he says he did not commit as he told Edney repeatedly, “What would Canadians think of me?” Edney says he did everything he could to convince Omar to take the plea deal for eight additional years as he was never going to get a fair trial. Omar’s previous US military counsel Colby Vokey said in 2007 he would encourage Khadr to plead guilty to the “JFK assassination,” if it meant he could go home.

Omar told Edney during the August 2010 Guantánamo commission trial, “We’re embarrassing ourselves by being here.” He boycotted the proceedings in July, saying, “How can I ask for justice from a process that does not have it or offer it?” Videos of Omar’s interrogation in a documentary by the same name show him telling his captors, “You don’t like the truth.”

“The whole trial system is a sham. There was a complete lack of due process. It is disturbing and embarrassing what is going on down there,” said Colby.

“But let’s face it, this is all about politics,” said Former Chief Prosecutor Colonel Morris Davis. By Davis’s account, Jim Haynes, the man who oversaw the tribunal process, told him, “Wait a minute, we can’t have acquittals. We’ve been holding these guys for years. How are we going to explain that? We can’t have acquittals. We’ve got to have convictions.”

“The compound could not be secured as there were other Taliban around”

When Omar was captured, we were first told he had killed a US ‘medic’ and he was the only one still alive to do so. This would have been a real war crime under the Geneva Conventions, if it had been done knowingly, the medic was wearing clear insignia and the medic was not active in combat. We know Christopher Speer was an elite commando and a member of the 19th Special Forces Group. The Guantánamo Commission witness known only as OC-1, a member of Speer’s unit, testified that training as a medic was a standard part of the training of the elite Special Forces unit which all members went through. They did not act as medics.

Edney described the testimony of OC-1 to me. “He told the judge, the firefight is what he would refer to as a clusterfuck. He enters the compound, shoots one man in the head, sees Omar with his back to him and facing a wall — Omar is screaming from his injuries from the bombing — and OC-1 shoots him twice in the back. OC-1 then exits the alley. In doing so he hears a grenade being thrown. He does not see who threw it. What is also significant is that he orders everyone to leave the compound as it could not be secured as there were other Taliban around — meaning other individuals could have thrown the grenade.”

From OC-1’s verbal account of not being able to secure the area, it is apparent there were far more people than just Omar still alive and capable of throwing grenades at that point. In 2008 the US military accidentally gave a room full of reporters the original report filed from OC-1 which, while leaving out the testimony of a grenade being thrown after Omar was shot, showed that the US military had falsified the official report and the other man beside him was still alive. There was also forensic wound analysis on US Special Forces Sergeant Speer that indicated friendly fire from a US grenade and OC-1’s report and testimony confirm the US was throwing grenades at the time Speer was killed.

OC-1 also testified that his actions in the compound were completed in under a minute. Quite a feat if he had been a medic.

OC-1 testified that Sergeant Layne Morris was injured by pebbles spitting back from the rock wall they were stationed behind. Morris himself said, “I thought, dang, my rifle just exploded on me.” Morris successfully sued Omar’s father for damages of $102.6 million in 2006, along with Speer’s widow. He claimed he was partially blinded in one eye by shrapnel from the grenade which killed Speer even though he was airlifted out with a bleeding nose hours before Speer was killed. Morris retired at 40 and has since been a media favourite for providing testimony against Omar, a child and man he never met.

Omar’s cellmate Omar Deghayes had his eye gouged out by a Guantánamo guard during an interrogation, but has never received compensation. Neither has Omar ever received compensation for his ongoing injuries.

“Our definition of sexy was something like Khadr”

Information on Omar’s case has been kept under intense lockdown since he was captured. He was not allowed to speak to his family for five years. He did not have even a US military lawyer for over two years. When he did talk to his family, a Foreign Affairs official had to be present and ensure “Absolutely NO ATTORNEYS can be present or the call will be refused.” The calls had to be in English despite other detainees being allowed to speak in Arabic. He was forbidden a pen in his room when other detainees were allowed them.

The leaked Guantánamo files showed us in the first line of Omar’s file that the primary interest the US had in him was they didn’t like his dad’s friend. Osama bin Laden was an acquaintance of Omar’s dad from back in the days when the US considered bin Laden a ‘good guy’, when al Qaeda were backed by the US to fight the Russians. Omar’s continued detention was recommended as “Detainee continues to provide valuable information on his father’s associates.”

In 2003, the year after Omar’s capture, Canada suddenly acquired a Ministry of Public Safety which appears to trump both the Canadian courts and the Ministry of Justice in issuing decrees over Omar’s future. We probably should ask how we are ensuring public safety now if not through justice.

This Orwellian Ministry was not much help when a Canadian murdered and ate someone, posted a video of it to our heavily surveilled Internet and then passed through four heavily surveilled international airports before being caught by a German citizen. The Ministry is however, interrupting our prison systems with an unprecedented order stopping Omar from speaking to reporters, overriding our parole boards with statements on Omar’s ineligibility for parole and vowing to fight ‘vigorously’ any attempt to move Omar from solitary confinement in federal prison.

The Ministry has also made a statement that sounds very much like it would not recognize a successful appeal by Omar in a US appeal court, despite the fact that they recognized his conviction by a Guantánamo commission. In case the message wasn’t clear, Prime Minister Harper echoed the Minister’s warnings on the day of Omar’s hearing to be transferred to a provincial prison in what can only be seen as attempted political interference in the judicial system.

The Canadian government has appealed Omar’s right to see the evidence against him all the way up to the Supreme Court. They refused to allow his interrogation videos to be released because Canadians might have “paroxysms of moral outrage, a Canadian specialty.” The Minister of Public Safety demanded Omar’s psychiatrist interviews from the US but refused to release them. Someone leaked them for us. After all the legal battles we still have seen only about fourteen pages of the thousands Canada has in his interrogation file. Considering what has already been revealed, Canadians really need to see what else is in there.

Canada, unlike every other western country, refused to request repatriation or humane treatment of their citizen. They were offered the opportunity to try Omar in a Canadian court and they refused because they said he would never be convicted in a Canadian court. This we learned from the US state cables (thank you, Chelsea Manning).

The US was left with the task of inventing a court and some crimes to apply retroactively. They destroyed evidence, disallowed defence witnesses, used evidence obtained under torture and hired the best discredited witness money could buy. All of this to get Omar labeled with a guilty verdict and out of Guantánamo as the only person charged with murder despite the 6,735 US military killed in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Five years after Omar’s capture, the first incarnation of the Guantánamo trials began. Omar was selected, out of all the possible contenders, to represent the so-called ‘worst of the worst’ at Guantánamo and stand trial. There was no question his case would have appeal, Chief Prosecutor Colonel Morris Davis said. “Our definition of sexy was something like Khadr. People understand murder.”

Most people didn’t understand it wasn’t a real murder charge, which would have been tried in a civilian court. Murder is unlawful killing; in war it is legal, protected as “combatant’s privilege.” Most people’s sex lives don’t involve trying a tortured child on a trumped up charge that carried the death penalty either.

Khadr’s case appeared personal for some members of the US military and not just from loyalty to their own. The persistent rumours (and evidence) of Speer’s death by friendly fire may have contributed to the need for deflection, but the highly sympathetic presence of his widow was another definite factor. She had spent the trial period in close social contact with all members of the jury, a fact mentioned by most in attendance but not reported in the news. She also gave lengthy testimony at his trial on the impact of Speer’s death on her family, referring to Omar as forever a murderer and “someone who is so unworthy”. Most observers described the testimony as “heart wrenching” or similar and it received extensive media coverage.

There was also lengthy victim impact testimony from members of the US military, referred to by Canada’s media as “warrior brothers of the US soldier killed by Mr. Khadr.” In the end, the jury sentenced Omar to forty years on top of the eight he had already served without knowing he had signed a plea deal. For a sentence greater than ten years, six of the seven jurors must have agreed to it. Speer’s widow gave a fist pumping cheer when she heard the sentence, which was fifteen years more than the prosecution had asked for. The Speer family have been the beneficiaries of several fundraising campaigns since the trial.

“Serious legal consequences”

In 2011, Edney, Omar’s most outspoken advocate and legal counsel, was planning on bringing a challenge to Omar’s verdict. In April 2011 we had a taped conversation which we agreed to resume when he returned from seeing Omar at Guantánamo. Edney was concerned that if the full information in the interview was printed at that time, he would not be allowed on the plane to Guantánamo as had happened in the past. When he returned from Guantánamo he was fired by Omar, who told several sources he was given misinformation to encourage him to do so. Omar’s new counsel had a gag order on Edney.

Those new lawyers took five and a half months past the date Omar was eligible for transfer to file an application for Ottawa to transfer him and another three months to ask for a review of the delay in transferring. On July 3, 2012, two of my full taped conversations with Edney were leaked to the online website Cryptome. Within minutes of Cryptome posting the link on Twitter, I received an email asking me to phone Omar’s new counsel. This efficiency and speed from the firm that brought Omar home eleven months late was breathtaking.

When I spoke to counsel Brydie Bethell she demanded repeatedly to know who had authorized the leak, apparently not being familiar with the nature of leaks. She stated that both Edney and I could face “serious legal consequences”, presumably for having a conversation about Omar over a year earlier, long before Edney’s gag order. She said it would “hurt Omar’s cause” if I were to speak of his case, and that I “certainly wasn’t entitled” to know how it could.

This has been a typical reaction from many officially mandated to help Omar’s case. With a few notable exceptions, the advice is for all concerned to sit down, shut up, and let ‘justice’ run its tedious course. Most of our politicians, media and NGO’s have obediently complied for over eleven years.

Omar went on a hunger strike in Guantánamo to protest the lack of progress in his transfer, according to several sources close to him. If he hadn’t, and the US had not continued to pressure Canada, there is no reason to believe he would be in Canada today. He re-hired Edney when he was brought home.

“A right-wing terrorist group”

Most people consider Sun media and the Toronto Star to be the extreme ends of the spectrum of Canadian media coverage on Omar with everyone else falling between. If that were true (and it largely is) a decade long faux debate over Omar’s return is being used to drum the identical very narrow negative message about Omar from every outlet. Even the debate itself is interesting, with outlets from the Sun to state media CBC inferring that media polls are the method we use to decide citizenship rights in Canada.

The Free Omar Khadr campaign has started a spreadsheet charting coverage of Omar Khadr for the last eleven years. The spreadsheet so far includes all of the Star coverage since the trial week, beginning in October 25, 2010.

I wrote in July 2012:

The ‘trial’ was held with the most widely derided court and procedures since the Salem witch trials and a newly created ‘military commission’ instead of either of the two legitimate US courts (civilian or military), but the word ‘convicted’ occurs uncontested 34 times in 24 articles. The crimes Omar Khadr was charged with include ones which the US calls war crimes. None of the rest of the world, including Canada, recognize the impossible ‘murder in violation of the laws of war’ as a war crime in Khadr’s case or any of the others as war crimes, and they could not be legitimately applied to Khadr’s case anyway since they were invented in 2006 and he was captured in 2002. Nevertheless, the words ‘war crime(s)/criminal’ occur 40 times in 24 articles as factual detail of the case.

The highly suspect plea deal which Omar signed after eight years of torture as his only path out of a legal black hole has been rubbed in his face by the Star 40 times, in the words ‘pleaded guilty/admitted/confessed’, presented without qualifiers. Despite there being absolutely no evidence to point to Khadr killing anyone, and a great deal of evidence that shows it would have been impossible for him to throw the grenade, the words ‘murder/killer’ are used against him 50 times, more than two times per article. In 24 articles, the word ‘jihad’ was worked in eight times, ‘al Qaeda’ 25, and ‘terrorist’ or ‘terrorism’ (the word terror was not included in the count) 30 times.

Most other outlets over the years have had a very similar message. While articles like this and reports on Speer’s widow and children are constant, there has not been one mainstream Canadian media article about Omar’s medical condition in over eleven years except a dry mention when it delayed a court hearing. While a random al Qaeda story was mined salaciously by the Star for a remote link with Khadrs, no article was written regarding the United Nations Committee Against Torture criticizing the Canadian government for delaying Omar’s return to Canada and recommending that Canada (presumably including the largest circulation newspaper) raise awareness of the Convention against Torture requirements amongst judges and members of the public.

Sun Media, established in 1996, takes the same message and drums for a variety of extreme and illegal remedies. The appeal it makes to mentally unstable elements of the population cannot be ignored, particularly when it posts the address of Omar’s grandparents and tells its viewers that they may soon be housing ‘the little terrorist Omar Khadr’ as he is constantly referred to by Sun commentators. To say their coverage of Omar over the years has been an attempt to instigate violence is a gross understatement but they continue unchallenged. As of last June, Canada no longer has a provision against hate speech in our Human Rights Act. The Star as well posted this article (since modified) originally with a picture of Omar’s sister’s door bell with name and apartment number.

Canadian media also makes a point of reporting, and in the case of Sun Media promoting, a group presented as average Canadian citizens against Omar Khadr’s return. Despite this opposition being openly created by the Jewish Defense League who have a “multi faith coalition” with the Hindu Advocacy Group, and the Christian Heritage Party, they are never mentioned by name except by Sun media. Tom Flanagan, former advisor to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, traces the roots of the current Conservative Party in power in Canada to the Christian Heritage Party.

The JDL is the Canadian chapter of a US group which is on the FBI terrorist watch list. In 1994, a US member killed 29 Palestinians at prayer, and in 2011 the RCMP launched an investigation against at least nine members of the Canadian JDL with regard to an anonymous tip that they were plotting to bomb the Palestine House in Mississauga. They are supporters of the English Defence League and the wannabe Canadian Defence League, which appears to be made up of the same people. On September 11, 2012, community activists gathered at the home of Omar’s family after JDL bikers promised to assemble there and “send a message” to the Khadr family, instigated by Sun media who had earlier published the address. The bikers eventually rode away after they met the crowd at the door.

It is hard to imagine Golden Dawn or neo-Nazis in Europe lobbying against a Muslim man and harassing his family and the media not pointing out that the harassers are members of far right extremist groups, especially in the case of the JDL, classified “a right-wing terrorist group” by the FBI in 2001. The Toronto Star pointed out JDL’s terrorist designation recently, and JDL protested what they called the paper’s “anti-Israeli bias” in 2010, but the Toronto Star consistently reports anti-Khadr protesters without mentioning the affiliation.

Comments on any articles about Khadr in Canadian media are very quickly flooded with negative comments which are voted up. The Harper government is no stranger to astroturfing and manipulation of public perception of the Khadr case has preoccupied this government as shown in the US state cables. Media manipulation is also a primary goal of the JDL.

“You killed yours; we starved ours to death”

There are real, internationally recognized war crimes in Omar Khadr’s case. Shooting a blinded child twice in the back is one. Torture of a prisoner of war is another, in which Canada was complicit. The investigations into Canada’s actions in this case have been blocked for more than eleven years.

Omar completely lost the sight in one eye in the firefight. He has since come close to losing the vision remaining in the second eye. Faced with his one remaining eye containing shrapnel, the US military chose to shine bright lights into it while interrogating him. Canada simply refused to give him sunglasses for eight years while he sat first in the Cuban sun then in 24 hours a day of fluorescent lighting. The US forced him through a corrupt show trial; Canada has locked him in solitary and refuses to allow him to be interviewed.

There is an apocryphal story in which a US diplomat said to Canada’s former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, “You treated your Indians a lot better than we treated ours.”

Trudeau replied, “Yes, you killed yours; we starved ours to death.”

Apocryphal or not, it is hard not to remember in the case of Omar Khadr.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the four-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

24 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Mourad Benchellali wrote:

    when we went through guantanamo we are sentenced to life…

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Good to hear from you, Mourad. And yes, it’s so profoundly wrong how people never charged or tried or convicted of anything, held by a government that broke every rule regarding humane, fair and just imprisonment, nevertheless end up tainted forever. I send you my best wishes.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    J.d. Gordon wrote:

    Maybe the hard feelings against Omar are related to the fact that he killed someone? Omar had a chance to leave the compound with women & children. Though 15, he wanted to be a man, and stay and fight. So now he pays the price. Separately, thought you might like to see my column this weekend, “Who is Jeh Johnson?”…he has tried his best to close Gitmo.
    http://blog.chron.com/chronopinion/2013/11/who-is-jeh-johnson/

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    I think if you read about Omar’s case closely, J.d., you’d realize that there’s significant doubt about him having killed anyone. Plus, endorsing people getting worked up about an act that may have been committed by a juvenile, taken to a war zone by his father, rather undermines America and Canada’s commitment to the UN Optional Protocol on the treatment of juveniles (those under 18 when their alleged crimes take place) caught up in armed conflicts, signed by both countries, which requires rehabilitation rather than punishment.
    As for your column on Jeh Johnson, it amazes me that the great killer of Muslims in drone attacks, President Obama, continues to annoy you as someone “soft” on terrorism, and when Guantanamo is still open, and the prisoners are still treated as though the law is a toy, to be discarded at will, and not put back together again.
    Although you concede that Obama and Eric Holder – and Johnson – “have advocated some tough measures to prevent terrorism, such as NSA’s massive surveillance program and an increase in drone strikes overseas – including against American citizens,” you claim that they have also been “soft on Al Qaeda and Taliban detainees captured by U.S. forces, and willfully blind to the threats from radical Islam,” and, you add, “Their collective obsession with so-called ‘Islamophobia,’ led to campaigns for Gitmo closure and granting Constitutional rights to foreign terrorists.” You must know that’s not even true, J.d. It was the Supreme Court, under President Bush, that ruled that the prisoners had constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights, and there is no sign at all that the Obama administration is concerned about being perceived as Islamophobic. Muslims are still being killed by drones, imprisoned without rights, kidnapped in other countries, held on ships, and happily prosecuted by the Obama administration in a legal system that is overwhelmingly biased towards defendants who are Muslim and accused of terrorism. Fundamentally, J.d., by their actions Obama and his administration are on your side.

  5. arcticredriver says...

    Andy, thanks for cross-posting this, thanks to Ms Marsh for posting it. There is nothing incredible about the suggestion that Omar was wounded early — which would certainly explain why Omar didn’t “leave with the women and children”.

    Commander Gordon, I admonish you for writing as if you knew what Mr Khadr’s motives were or what actions he took.

    As to the identity of OC-1, Canadian civil rights activist Joshua Boyle did some very detailed research trying to figure out who “OC-1″ and “Lieutenant Colonel W.” were. Just as the USA has a surprisingly chaotic number of intelligence agencies, they have a surprisingly chaotic number of special forces outfits, including Navy SEALS, Army Rangers, Green Berets, Delta Force, and who knows what else. There were elements of at least two special forces outfits on the scene on that day, as well as indications that there was a US witness from a civilian agency (most likely the CIA). Joshua came to the conclusion that OC-1 and Lieutenant Colonel W. were one and the same person.

    He told me about tracing the public records as to which units were in Afghanistan at that time. He concluded that Major Roger Watt, a Green Beret reservists, was OC-1 and Lt Col W. He figured OC-1 was simply code for “officer commanding”. Lt Col not Major, because since the incident Watt was promoted. The detail that convinced me Joshua was correct was a claim in OC-1’s after-action report that his assessments that the bullets coming at him from the guy nearby Omar in the alley was “directed fire” was based on his “years of combat experience”.

    Of course almost all the years since Vietnam have been a kind of Pax Americana, so no US GI — not even in the Special Forces — has “years of combat experience”. But Roger Watt’s day job was as a police officer. Last time I looked, post Afghanistan, he had been promoted to Deputy Chief of his city’s police. Prior to Afghanistan he had spent years on his city’s SWAT teams.

    So, it seems the “years of combat experience” he claimed was a semi-legitimate boast, not pure invention. I am not, of course, a soldier, but personally, while I recognize gunfights on a SWAT team have a lot in common with actual combat, there are sufficient differences that I don’t think it should be conflated with genuine combat.

    If I am not mistaken, most SWAT team incidents revolve around a single gun or a toy gun, surrendered peacefully without shots being fired.

    I guess, if you are a SWAT team member one has to anticipate that every single incident might be the exceptional incident where you face multiple well-armed opponents, committed to shooting it out, rather than surrender — but even then that would differ from real combat because your opponents can’t call for re-inforcements, or send out hidden reserves to out-flank you.

    Some might claim this is secret information. But Watt has, or had, a website where he moonlighted as a combat tactics instructor, which contained souvenir photos taken just after the incident, so it can’t be claimed to be any more of a secret than that Bagram captive Dilawar’s cruel murderer Joshua Claus was Omar Khadr’s first cruel torturer.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Great to hear from you, as always, arcticredriver, and thank you for the information about OC-1 and Lt. Col. W., via Joshua Boyle, whose work you have alerted me to. I just Googled his name to discover that a Joshua Boyle was married to Omar’s sister Yaynab. Is that the same man, do you know? He divorced Zaynab, and remarried, and in January this year was reported missing in Afghanistan with his new wife: http://www.buzzfeed.com/rosiegray/canadian-missing-in-afghanistan-had-a-terror-tie (a truly terrible title for the article, showing how cheap sensationalism works)
    I haven’t seen an update on whether he and his wife were found.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Sue Thompson wrote:

    WOW, Andy, you have really got the info & the talent & ability to tell it like it is! Thank you for all you do!

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Sue, for the supportive comments. Much appreciated!

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    J.d. Gordon wrote:

    Thanks, Andy. I appreciate your thoughts. I’m well familiar with Omar’s case from dozens of times sitting in a Gitmo courtroom watching his military commission unfold over my four years as a Pentagon spokesman. Though his defense team claims he didn’t throw the grenade, O.J. Simpson’s defense lawyers also made a case for finding the “real killers.” Though I agree that Omar was victimized by his father/family, growing up Al Qaeda along with many Bin Laden kids. Remarkably sad for everyone involved. On Constitutional rights, the Supreme Court’s granting of habeas corpus to Gitmo detainees is an entirely different level than Obama’s plan on moving them into the U.S. mainland, where they would be entitled to legal protections on a par with U.S. citizens. I think that Obama has done some good things on counter-terrorism, such as the drone program, though I’ve characterized it as “bi-polar” if you consider the vast disparity in his approach to captured Al Qaeda suspects (soft) and those on the loose (merciless). See below… http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/may/2/obamas-bipolar-approach-to-terrorism/?page=all

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Well, we must agree to disagree on moving the prisoners, J.d. As I’m sure you know, I believe it is necessary for Guantanamo to be closed, and, for that to happen, the remaining prisoners must either be released or moved to the US mainland. Only with Guantanamo closed can we get back to where we need to be – where those captured in wartime are held as prisoners of war in accordance with the Geneva Conventions, and those accused of terrorism are tried in federal courts on the US mainland – as, of course, is already the case with everyone except the “anomalies” held at Guantanamo.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Dessie Harris wrote:

    Αndy, wishing to thank you most sincerely for your determination and extremely hard work to free men from Guantanamo Bay and bring awareness to their plight. You are a most unique and caring man. Thank you.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    How very nice to hear from you, Dessie, and to read your wonderfully supportive words.It really does help me to keep hammering away at the ongoing injustice of Guantanamo.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Waris Ali wrote:

    Telling it like it is Andy Worthington! I do hope after Shaker Aamer is released, you have the chance to work with Shaker later on. Once he gets back onto his feet, he will be a very powerful voice indeed! I don’t see him as keeping quiet over the long term.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Waris. Yes, it would be nice to have the luxury to work with Shaker, but I’d settle for just getting him out, as you know. I’ve reached the point these days where I sometimes wonder if there’s some sort of angle none of us have thought of, but there isn’t, of course. That’s just what prolonged injustice does, I suppose.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    David Knopfler wrote:

    Commissioner Gordon posts his bi-polar article on this page but it turns out, giving it a quick read, that it has little to offer that relates to Andy’s concerns and is actually a pedestrian complaint about President Obama’s aspiration that the US defense budget can be moderately trimmed in the years to come. Even though it really has little to do with Andy’s post please let me just briefly address that issue since the commander raises it:

    19% of the federal budget goes on defense and national security in the US. To put this in perspective, this compares with 2% of the Federal budget spent on Education (which perhaps helps to explain why two thirds of America’s professors are paid wages well below the poverty line).The retort might well come that Federal Government spending is not how the US funds its educational programs and that would be a criticism I’d have to address.

    So let me put it another way: It represents about 500% more than the number two big military spender, China or 1,000% more than the UK defence budget. Now, I can see why Dick Cheney would like this, since Halliburton’s share price rose 95% for every year he was in office and as their chief lobbyist that’s a job well done – but it’s hard to see it as representing the best interests of the average American.

    Closing GTMO, on the other hand, would send a signal to the world that America, once so admired round the free world, has returned to the multilateralist thinking it once so proudly sponsored at the UN and that it respects the human rights conventions it signed up to there. In those circumstances, the ferocious feeding of the corporate bottom line, which is really what this $600 plus billion annually represents, might prove rather wanton and unnecessary.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, David, for the withering analysis of America’s bloated defense budget – and shrivelled education budget – and your admirable call for a return to the multilateralist values you mention.

  17. arcticredriver says...

    Yes Andy, Joshua was married to Zaynab Khadr, Omar’s elder sister. They met through the wikipedia, where Joshua had specialized in articles related to terrorism.

    Yes, he and his second wife disappeared in Afghanistan just over a year ago. When he was married to Zaynab he started working on a book about Ahmed Said Khadr, the patriarch of the family, who has been the subject of so much rumour and innuendo. I suspect that, after his first marriage ended he still wanted to continue working on that book, and that this is what led them to Afghanistan. If he had asked my advice I would have strongly recommended he avoid Afghanistan, Pakistan, and all the countries that neighboured them. Being innocent isn’t enough in a post 9-11 world, where security officials feel they can ignore the principle of innocent until proven guilty.

    I think Joshua was just as vulnerable as Maher Arar, Mubin Sheikh, Abdullah Amalki, and other Canadians with ties to Islam or the Middle East, to having Canadian security officials release an incomplete and misleading dossier on him to other nation’s security agencies.

    I know he was interviewed by Canadian security officials. He told me about it.

    There are four or five different scenarios that could explain the disappearance of Joshua and his wife. But a kidnapping by non-political bandits, or by forces aligned with the Taliban or HiG would probably have been accompanied by ransom demands, or at least some kind of statement.

    Another scenario is that when Canadian security officials circulated that incomplete and misleading dossier to their opposite numbers in American security agencies, they shared it with the security officials who manage the kill or capture list.

    There is a further scenario that occurred to me about two months ago, when there was an article on remaining al Qaeda leaders who remained at large that included an image of American al Qaeda suspect Adam Gadahn. It suddenly occurred to me that Joshua and Mr Gadahn bear a strong physical resemblance to one another. The appearance of Joshua at that internet cafe in Ghazni may have been reported to the hot-heads at SEAL team six as the possible appearance of the elusive Mr Gadahn. Joshua’s American wife Caitlin Coleman was seven months pregnant. There have been several incidents when militants dressed in women’s clothes, and hid large suicide bombs that made them look like they were pregnant.

    If US special forces shot to kill a companion to someone they thought was Adam Gadahn, because they thought “he” was a bodyguard with a suicide bomb, only to discover she was an innocent US citizen, who actually was pregnant — that would be pretty embarrassing. I think this is a likely explanation as to why we don’t really know what happened to Joshua. It is unlikely, but he may still be alive, in a secret US prison, or a secret Afghan prison.

    Joshua and Mubin Sheikh had friction over work Joshua did on the wikipedia’s article on the other man. Mubin Sheikh was one of the two moles Canadian Security officials planted in a group of hot-heads who were later called “The Toronto 18″. There is a potentially dangerous technique security officials use to try to track, blunt, and control the efforts of potentially dangerous individuals and groups. I first read about this technique in a spy novel. A progressive Canadian jounrnalist named Ian Adams wrote half a dozen spy novels, and in one he introduced a counter-terrorism techique he called the “parallel cell”.

    Although I read about this technique in a novel, I have read all kinds of newspaper accounts of the capture or terrorism suspects that show security officials really do use this technique.

    The technique exploits one of the most serious weaknesses of underground groups — they can’t recruit openly. Open recruiting is likely to trigger the arrest of the whole group.

    The technique relies on finding individuals who could credibly be members of a underground group like the one you want to track. With the clandestine help of security agencies, your agent provocateur can get away with actions that attract the individuals who might otherwise, eventually, be recruited by genuinely committed dangerous individuals.

    The agent provocateur can be much more successful at setting up a (bogus) underground cell than genuinely committed terrorists, as, since they are clandestinely protected by security officials, they can take risks the genuinely committed dangerous individuals can’t. The result is that the agent provocateur’s bogus group can divert almost all the potential recruits, starving the groups run by genuinely committed dangerous individuals of new recruits.

    Mubin Sheikh had a credible background. He had already lobbied for some kind of application of Shariah law to Canadian muslims.

    I think his story illustrates the dangers of employing agent provocateurs. By allowing your agent provocateur to get away with dangerous or anti-social acts, so they can establish or take over a militant group, those acts that establish their credentials may be more dangerous than anything the group could have done without the agent provocateur’s help.

    Mubin Sheikh had served in the Canadian Armed Forces, and he had a firearms license. No one else in the group of hot-heads had a firearms license. No one else had any military training. So Mubin Sheikh trained them, and taught them how to shoot.

    What if the hot-heads in the group he penetrated had never had the indirect assistance of Canadian security officials through agent provocateurs. The members of this group seemed to lack the skills or motivation to ever be a genuine threat, if they hadn’t received help from agent provocateurs. For all we knew these guys might have drifted apart after a couple more months of harmless griping, if Canadian security officials hadn’t provided agent provocateurs to enable them.

    Although the group was called “The Toronto 18″ most weren’t charged, or had their charges dropped. A central handful, who were those the agent provocateurs focused on, ended up going to jail.

    There were two moles who penetrated this group. The two different moles weren’t aware the other individual was a mole. The identity of the other mole remains secret. Mubin Sheikh seems proud of his role, sees himself as taking a risk to held defend Canada. Ironically, although Mubin Sheikh seems to have been the far more important mole, security officials paid the other guy $4 million CAD, while Mubin Sheikh was only paid $400,000 CAD.

    A year or two ago leaks revealed Canadian security officials had forwarded an incomplete and misleading secret dossier on Mubin Sheikh to US security officials — that characterized him as a potential threat. Mubin Sheikh saw himself as a hero, who took risks to help protect Canada, and seemed genuinely hurt by this news.

    Even though I think he made a mistake to agree to serve this role, because the potential harm to Canada of providing that training outweighed whatever benefit there was to monitoring them, I also think it was a mistake to tell the USA he was a potential threat. It was disloyal and unfair.

    When US security officials arrest “sleeper cells”, in the USA, if you look closely, you will generally find there was a mole or agent provocateur involved. That training camp in the American Northwest that led to the extradition of Abu Hamza el-Masri and the four other men — also the work of an agent provocateur.

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Giacomella Jackie Milesi Ferretti wrote:

    Thank you as always Andy for your incredible work and strength in fighting for justice, for Omar Khadr and for the closing of Guantanamo!

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    You’re welcome, Giacomella. I confess that the failure to achieve very much progress this year, despite the widespread publicity and outrage sparked by the hunger strike, has ended up being rather tiring, so it’s good to receive such positive words of encouragement. And of course, the men still held at Guantanamo, without charge or trial, without family visits, have it infinitely worse, so we must all try to stay strong for them.

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, arcticredriver. You have provided a powerful explanation of why this type of operation is so dangerous – in addition to the rather obvious fact that it’s just wrong. However, your comments about the treatment of Mubin Sheikh at the conclusion of the “Toronto 18” episode remind me of other reports I’ve read about how Muslim infiltrators are often betrayed. I suspect racism has a major part to play, although I also find the entire concept of double agents, infiltrators and agents provocateurs to be deeply troubling.
    I am sorry to hear that Joshua has not resurfaced. In that part of the world, in these uncertain times, it is not a cause for hope.

  21. Thomas says...

    As I’ve said before, torture makes confessions and plea deals meaningless, as the person might have been tortured into it.

  22. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, exactly, Thomas, and yet the use of torture – or other forms of abuse – permeates the whole of the “war on terror.” People still don’t realize the extent to which the so-called “evidence” against prisoners at Guantanamo is the result of torture, other forms of coercion, or bribery (with better living conditions) – of the men themselves, or of their fellow prisoners, either in Guantanamo or elsewhere in the network of “black sites.”

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    Mourad Benchellali wrote, in response to 2, above:

    thank you very much , Now we fight for things to change

  24. Andy Worthington says...

    Absolutely, Mourad. The way is hard, and the obstacles placed in our way are immense, but we cannot give up. This is a human tragedy, and also a massive betrayal of the legal, moral and ethical principles that the West espouses. Our countries can be rank hypocrites, of course, but if we erode key values the descent into all-out barbarism will be horrendous. All prisoners need protections.

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