independent.co.uk Saturday, 15 May 2010
By Robert Fisk
I began my column last week with the words "We know all about Guantanamo". I was wrong. Courtesy of the Toronto press - until a few days ago, when half of them were censored out of the drumhead courts martial that pass for "justice" in this execrable place - I have been learning a lot more. Because the case involves a Canadian citizen - and because the Canadian government is doing sod-all for its passport-carrying prisoner - it hasn't been getting a lot of publicity on this side of the Atlantic. It should.
Omar Khadr was 15 when he allegedly - the word "'allegedly" is going to have to be used for ever, since this is not a fair trial - shot and killed a US Special Forces soldier in eastern Afghanistan in July 2002. Last week, a former US serviceman called Damien Corsetti, nicknamed "The Monster" at the Bagram jailhouse where torture and murder were widespread, agreed via a video link to the Guantanamo "court" that Khadr was trussed up in a cage "in one of the worst places on earth". "We could do basically anything to scare the prisoners," Corsetti announced.
Beating was forbidden, "The Monster" acknowledged, but prisoners could be threatened with "nightmarish scenarios" like rendition to Egypt or Israel where, according to Canada's Globe and Mail, "they would disappear". Which tells you a lot about Israel. Or what the Americans think of Israel. Quite a lot about Egypt, too, come to think of it.
I should add that Mr Khadr, who is now 23, was gravely wounded when he was brought to Bagram. As Mr Corsetti said, "He was a 15-year old kid with three holes in his body, a bunch of shrapnel in his face." The lads at Bagram - the guards and interrogators, that is - dubbed him "Buckshot Bob". Clever, huh?
Mr Corsetti, I should also add, was kind to Mr Khadr. He was earlier acquitted of charges of detainee abuse - not involving Khadr - and now says he is a disabled veteran being treated for "post-traumatic stress disorder". In other words, quite a find for Khadr's defence lawyers. Not for the Canadian government, however, which asked the Obama administration to suppress the fact that in 2003 and 2004, Khadr had given information to officials of the Ottawa department of foreign affairs and to agents of the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS, for those who care).
The Canadian Supreme Court (for which I care a lot, because it appears to be fair) has already ruled that the conditions of Khadr's imprisonment at Guantanamo when interrogated by CSIS "constituted a clear violation of Canada's international human rights obligations"
Another American interrogator at Bagram, a sergeant, it turned out at the Guantanamo hearings, had questioned Khadr about his role in the Taliban. This interrogator, named Joshua Claus, was later convicted of detainee abuse - though not against Khadr. Claus also pleaded guilty to assaulting an innocent Afghan taxi driver named Dilawar who died in custody at Bagram.
We know Claus's identity because he gave press interviews to, among others, The Toronto Star, in 2008, when he claimed that his former employers were "trying to imply I'm beating or torturing everybody I ever talked to". Claus said, "Omar was pretty much my first big case. With Omar, I spent a lot of time trying to understand who he was and what I could say to him or do for him, whether it be to bring him extra food or get a letter out to his family." There was a lot more stuff at these hearings, admission of a "fear up" and "fear down" technique, for example - "fear up" apparently involved the threat of rape "by four big black guys".
In other words, another horrible, obscene story from Guantanamo. But wait. We can't have this kind of publicity show in the Canadian press, can we? Not least when Khadr's own government will do nothing for him. So get this. The Pentagon has announced that more than half of the Canadian press - including The Globe and Mail and the Star - will no longer be able to report the Guantanamo "proceedings" because they named Mr Claus as one of the interrogators - even though Mr Claus had himself given interviews to the press two years ago. But he wasn't named at Guantanamo. Get it?
Information already in the public domain is no longer in the public domain when it isn't mentioned at a drumhead trial in Cuba. (Yes, let's just remember that Guantanamo is actually in bloody Cuba!) The Pentagon didn't even call the reporters concerned - they used email, of course, because there might have been an argument, mightn't there?
Fairness in court? Not that we are going to find out. Khadr's father was an al-Qa'ida official. His life was almost certainly saved by US medics - there are some good guys in these wars - but he was most definitely tortured; and Canada (here I quote the Globe and Mail's excellent editorial) "in a sneaky and illegal fashion, participated in the abuse. It turned the fruits of its own interrogations of Mr Khadr to the prosecution, at a time when the military commissions had no explicit bar against evidence obtained coercively".
Too bad we won't have to hear much more about this trial, not in Canada, at least. The Star and The Globe and Mail have since made no reference to Claus's identity. Not surprising, I suppose. But remember, you read it here.