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Carol Rosenberg: Khadr confession ruled admissible by military judge

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. In Guantánamo, Cuba, the trial of Omar Khadr was put off for 30 days after his army-appointed defense attorney fainted in the courtroom as a result of illness. And now joining us, just back (sooner than she thought she would be) from Guantánamo and in Miami, is Carol Rosenberg. She’s a senior journalist for The Miami Herald and the McClatchy newspaper chain. Thanks for joining us, Carol.


JAY: First of all, what happened in the courtroom, and why the postponement?

ROSENBERG: Well, they got through the first day of the trial, jury selection, opening arguments. And the lone defense attorney, the only person who’s the defender of Omar Khadr, was questioning the special forces commando who had shot Khadr in the back, back in 2002, and the lawyer just collapsed in court. He sought a recess, the jury was excused from the room, and he collapsed. They suspect that it is complications of gallbladder surgery from six weeks ago. He five weeks ago became Khadr’s only attorney.

JAY: Let me ask you about that. Tell us the story of why he became the only attorney.

ROSENBERG: This gentleman, Army Lt. Col. John Jackson, who collapsed, is the 12th attorney to defend Omar Khadr. Omar Khadr has made a habit of firing his attorneys. He has said that he doesn’t think he’s going to get a fair shake from the process, and he periodically says he’s going to boycott the proceedings and fires his lawyers. He in fact had fired Col. Jackson some five weeks ago, six weeks ago, right around the time of the gallbladder surgery, along with two American civilian defense attorneys who were volunteering their services. And the judge told the colonel he would stay on the job alone and defend him, that Omar Khadr was not equipped to defend himself at trial.

JAY: Wasn’t there a Canadian attorney or two in there as well?

ROSENBERG: The Khadr family attorneys are advisors, they’re legal consultants, and they actually do get to sit at the table with Omar Khadr and Col. Jackson. But they’re not Americans, and only Americans can get the security clearances you need to defend a war court captive, a alleged war criminal, at Guantanamo. And Dennis Edney of Edmonton, he’s a Canadian, so he doesn’t have standing; he can’t defend Omar Khadr.

JAY: Now, there was some possibility that Omar Khadr wouldn’t even show up at the trial, but in fact he did. Is that right?

ROSENBERG: Sure did. Showed up in a suit and tie, looking like a man. He had gotten himself a haircut and sat at the table with his appointed defense attorney, a jury consultant who had helped them pick the jury, and his Canadian defense counsel showed up, and looked very engaged, and not a sign that he was going to boycott.

JAY: The big issue facing the trial right from the start was whether the confessions, which Khadr says, and I guess a lot of people that have observed this trial have said, were confessions obtained at the worst—I should say, to say the least, under duress. And remind us again about how they found these confessions. And what did the judge say? Why was this allowed?

ROSENBERG: Well, Khadr and his lawyers, those fired and those who remain, have maintained all along that he was at best coerced and at worst tortured into confessing to throwing a grenade in the firefight that killed US Army Special Forces SFC Christopher Speer, that he told his captors what they wanted to hear, that he threw the grenade. And a series of interrogators testified that he cooperated, that he told them what—they felt honestly, what had happened that day, and that the judge decided that Khadr was neither coerced nor tortured, and that all of the confessions would be admissible at trial.

JAY: Now, if this had taken place in an American courtroom, the fact that a police officer had threatened him with potential gang rape, that he’d been shot just before the interrogation, and, I think you mentioned in our last interview, had just been bombed in the compound he was in, I mean, it’s hard to believe that that confession would have been admissible under normal law, normal American courtroom practice. Is that not true?

ROSENBERG: That’s why they have the war court. That’s why there are military commissions. There were no Miranda rights in the battlefield. You are right in saying that he didn’t get the rights that somebody interrogated by a policeman or an FBI officer in the United States on US soil would have gotten. He was questioned without ever being told that he had the right not to answer. So we start from a different place. And the standard that the Obama administration has introduced for these courts is voluntariness: did he volunteer the information, or was he coerced? Coercion is out; torture is out. And this judge, Col. Parrish, found that he volunteered the information.

JAY: And the fact that this rape threat—did the judge address it in his decision?

ROSENBERG: The judge writes that the rape threat seemed to produce nothing in terms of what Omar Khadr went on to tell them, that he only chose to confess to his activities once they brought him a videotape they found in the heaping pile of rubble that had been the compound where he was captured. The judge says that it was showing him the videotape that caused him to cooperate, and not until he’d seen the videotape. Now, the defense attorneys argue that the rape threat was always in the back of his mind. Remember, what the rape threat was was an Army interrogator saying to Omar Khadr the fictitious story of someone who did not cooperate with his interrogators in Bagram (where Omar was being held), was sent to an American prison, raped, and died. And the defense claims that he kept that story in the back of his head all through—you know, it set the stage for all the interrogations that were yet to come.

JAY: Now, the other piece of this story that’s, I think, particularly interesting—Canadians may know this, Americans may not—is that he’s the only Westerner still left in Guantanamo, but also perhaps the only Westerner—Omar Khadr was born in Toronto, for those that haven’t followed the story—whose government did not try to help him, didn’t—apparently, the Canadians didn’t try to get him out of Guantanamo. What’s the context of this?

ROSENBERG: That’s absolutely true. You know, as Guantanamo was set up in 2002, there was great controversy about the war court that was coming. But even before the war court, there was controversy about the basis by which the Americans were holding these people as non-POWs, as a new, separate category. And one by one the Western countries—the UK, Australia, Spain, Russia, and other Western countries—asked for their prisoners back and got them released, including people who were designated for these tribunals that Omar Khadr is facing. And he is indeed the last Western and youngest captive at Guantanamo, and he’s facing a tribunal. The position of the Harper government and the governments before it is that due process or this process or the American military process should be allowed to run its course, and then Canada will see what it should do. It has never asked for Omar Khadr back.

JAY: And just to remind our viewers who may not have seen our last interview, the whole issue of how it can be a war crime, which is what he’s charged with—just to remind people that haven’t followed the story, he’s charged with throwing a grenade that killed an American soldier while the compound he was in (he being Khadr) was under attack by American forces in Afghanistan, that being a war crime, as opposed to somebody who’s involved in a resistance struggle against a foreign army, that kind of a question won’t even come up at this trial. Is that true?

ROSENBERG: This will not come before the jurors. That was decided earlier in what they call pretrial arguments. The jurors are told that if the facts fit the story, that is a war crime. They don’t get the independent ability, these officers of the US military, to say, this wasn’t a war crime; this was war. If it happened the way the prosecution said it did, they would have to find it’s a war crime.

JAY: It’s also a little ironic. It’s right—the trial’s taking place just at a time when Gen. Petraeus has said we may have to negotiate with Taliban fighters who have American blood on their hands. So the negotiations are going to take place with people that have done far more than Omar Khadr ever did.

ROSENBERG: I think the issue in this case is that they raided a compound, in which an American soldier died in the firefight. If only people had been wounded and if he had been captured without an American soldier having died, we might not be at this stage today.

JAY: I guess it’s also just part of the legacy of when this happened. I don’t know if something similar would have been happening, you know, whether anyone would have been charged in this year or last year. But back then, I suppose, the fervor was such that anything seemed to be justifiable.

ROSENBERG: Yes, it was July 2002, and the American Special Forces were on the move around Afghanistan, they were hunting Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and they felt that this Al-Qaeda compound should have surrendered, not resisted.

JAY: And probably also looked good in terms of capture rates: the more people you’re capturing and charging, the more successful it seems. We know there are a lot of people ended up in Guantanamo. Probably the best story is the Chinese Uyghurs who are just traveling in Pakistan, and some bounty hunters captured them and sold them to the US, who—and the original interrogators of them said there’s nothing here. They wound up in Guantanamo anyway. And if I’m not incorrect, I think some of them are still in Guantanamo. Aren’t some of the Uyghurs still sitting there?

ROSENBERG: There are Uyghurs sitting at Guantanamo in a place called Camp Iguana, waiting for a country to take them in for resettlement, because they fear that if they go back to China, as devout Muslims they will be persecuted. And I believe Canada at one point was involved in some talks about whether or not they might look at them, but that seems to have fallen apart.

JAY: And Canada does not—it’s not looking good throughout this whole process. Thanks very much for joining us, Carol.

ROSENBERG: Thank you.

JAY: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End of Transcript

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Carol Rosenberg is a senior journalist, currently with the McClatchy News Service. Rosenberg works at the Miami Herald, which has provided extensive coverage of the operation of the Guantanamo Bay detention camps, in Cuba