Indecent Haste

Tom Parker is currently at Guantánamo to observe the military commissions proceedings against detainee Omar Khadr.  This is his second post.

Another theme has emerged at the pre-trial military commission proceedings being conducted this week here at the US Naval Base in Guantánamo in the case of Omar Khadran unseemly rush to complete the hearings so that those attending can get back to the US mainland by the weekend.

The military judge overseeing the proceedings, Colonel Patrick Parrish, has not returned to any issue in the past few days as often as he has to reminding counsel that they have only a limited amount of time to examine their witnesses if they want to make their flights home.

Colonel Parrish is scrupulous in noting that he plans to stay on in Guantánamo for several days after the hearings end and that he is not in any way trying to hurry the lawyers, but of course his repeated interventions are having the opposite effect.

The military judge’s concern with staying on an arbitrary schedule seems most often to be directed at the defense as they try day after day, unsuccessfully, to find some way to introduce testimony about the “command climate” in the Bagram detention facility into evidence.

This matters because with no eyewitness to confirm Omar Khadr’s account of his abuse at the hands of his interrogators in the Bagram facility, where he was held for three months as a teenager before being transferred to Guantánamo in late October 2002, the best that the defense can do is to try to demonstrate that his allegations are reasonable and replicated in the experiences of other inmates.

Today we heard two separate interrogators, former US Army Specialist Damien Corsetti and Interrogator #17, try to speak to this issue despite multiple objections from the prosecution that were mostly upheld by the judge, along with heavy-handed hints that time was running out for the defense.

I have a growing sense that in the military commissions the cards are stacked heavily against Omar Khadr.

Both Damien Corsetti and Interrogator #17 had worked in the Bagram detention facility while Omar Khadr was held there and both had interacted with him although neither took part in his actual interrogations.

Although most of their testimony was necessarily confined to these brief interactions some illuminating details nevertheless emerged. Corsetti revealed that Khadr had been known to the guards as “Buckshot Bob” because of the extent of the injuries he had sustained just before he was taken into US military custody in late July 2002.

The awful accuracy of this nickname was underscored when we learned that Omar Khadr had been transferred to the squalid and insanitary conditions of the detention facility after only two weeks treatment in hospital.

On 27 July 2002 Khadr was shot at least twice in the back, once in the leg and had been blinded in one eye by shrapnel. He was unconscious for almost a week and was near death. Yet by 12 August 2002 he had been transferred to Bagram detention facility and was being interrogated while still confined to a stretcher.

This speaks volumes about the lack of concern showed for the 15-year-old boy’s welfare by his captors. Indeed both interrogators testifying yesterday appeared to feel sorry for Omar Khadr. As Damien Corsetti put it:

“He was a child. He was a 15-year old child who had been blown up, shot and grenaded. He was in one of the worst places on the earth. How could you not have compassion for that?”

You would think that at the very least Corsetti would have had the opportunity to explain what he meant by “one of the worst places on earth” but apparently in the judgment of this court that would not be relevant.

Interrogator #17 injected a note of pathos into the proceedings when he described Omar Khadr as “a young man who never had a chance to grow up.” As the pre-trial arguments continue I have the growing sense that it is unlikely that Omar Khadr is going to be afforded the opportunity to resume that journey any time soon.

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