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Video Released Of Guantanamo Interrogation

MICHELE NORIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

We are seeing the first public glimpses today of an interrogation at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Lawyers for a young Canadian detainee have released excerpts of a videotaped interrogation from when he was 16 years old. Canadian intelligence agents are shown questioning the young man over a three-day period. The interrogators are calm, even somewhat sympathetic, but the young man is clearly distressed and weeps through much of the interrogation.

NPR's Tom Gjelten is with me now to walk us through some of the video.

And Tom, first, some background here. Who is the young man and how did he end up at Guantanamo?

TOM GJELTEN: Robert, his name is Omar Khadr. He was born in Canada. His family moved back and forth between Canada and Pakistan. His father was apparently involved with al-Qaida and went back to Afghanistan to fight. Omar went with him, and in 2002, he was present during a firefight with U.S. soldiers.

Omar is accused of having killed a U.S. soldier with a hand grenade. He was himself severely injured. He was arrested. His lawyers claim he was mistreated. He was just 15 years old at the time, but he was sent to Guantanamo with other detainees. One of the reasons Omar was of interest to his interrogators was that he apparently had personally met Osama bin Laden, though, he was only 10 years old at the time.

SIEGEL: Now, on to the videotape, and we should explain here that the lawyers for Khadr, who are bringing a suit on his behalf, have received copies of the videotape of this interrogation. They have not released the entirety of what they received.

GJELTEN: No.

SIEGEL: They've released 28 minutes of this. So, that's what we can look at, and we're going to start here with bits from - this is the second day of his interrogation.

GJELTEN: That's right, Robert. I should point out the first day he was actually quite hopeful. He - the Canadian intelligence agents came to do the interrogating, and Omar apparently thought that they might get him out of there. He says, I'm very happy to see you. But by the second day, he's discouraged and pleading for help.

(Soundbite of Omar Khadr's videotaped interrogation)

Mr. OMAR KHADR (Guantanamo Detainee): No, I'm not. You're not here.

GJELTEN: And here he, of course, he's weeping and holding his head in his hands.

SIEGEL: Mm-hmm. That's the Canadian interrogators.

Unidentified Man #1: We've heard this story before.

Mr. KHDAR: You don't care about me, that's why.

Unidentified Man #1: Well, I do care about you. But I want to talk to the honest Omar that we were talking to yesterday. I don't want to talk this Omar.

Mr. KHADR: It wasn't honest.

Unidentified Man #1: Yes, it was.

Mr. KHADR: You see, you're not going to believe me.

Unidentified Man #1: Well, look me straight in the eyes and tell me that you were being honest.

Mr. KHADR: I am being honest.

Unidentified Man #1: Omar, you can't even bear to look at me when you're saying that.

Mr. KHADR: Why - I can't bear to look at you?

Unidentified Man #1: You know, put your hand down.

Mr. KHADR: No. You don't care about me.

GJELTEN: You know, Robert, here, to me, this is so clearly a teenager…

SIEGEL: Mm-hmm.

GJELTEN: …being interrogated. I mean, how many times have you spoken to your own teenage kids this way when you say, look at me in the face, and he is just too upset to do it. It clearly, I think this scene really illustrates what an interrogation of a 16-year-old looks like.

SIEGEL: Right. When the 16-year-old detainee, Omar Khadr says, you don't care about me; the implication in his accusation - that I thought you did care about me, I thought you're here to help me in some way.

GJELTEN: Right. I think it shows his naivete. He's feeling very disappointed, very discouraged at this point. He had his hopes up, and now, he's realizing that these guys are not on his side from his point of view.

(Soundbite of Omar Khadr's videotaped interrogation)

Mr. KHADR: Kill me. (Arabic spoken)

SIEGEL: Now, this is the sound of Khadr. He's been left alone. He's moaning to himself.

Mr. KHADR: (Arabic spoken).

GJELTEN: What it shows is just - because he is alone in the cell. It is this image of complete despair…

SIEGEL: Mm-hmm.

GJELTEN: …on his part.

SIEGEL: Now, whatever this is, whatever this interrogation was like, he wasn't being waterboarded, you wouldn't call that torture. It didn't even seem to be the most harsh questioning one could imagine.

GJELTEN: No. That's exactly right, Robert, and - however, a couple of points. One, there is one issue here of what we have not seen. A Canadian official who visited Omar in 2004, which would be a year later than this, has since reported that the boy was being moved every two to three hours to different cells as part of a sleep deprivation technique that's meant to weaken detainees' resistance.

The critical issue of course is his youth. In this video, he is just 16 years old, and human rights advocates say, basically, this is no way to treat a 16-year-old. And he hasn't been accused of war crimes or anything like that. He's accused of throwing a hand grenade at a soldier in a combat situation. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In fact, the U.S. government has accused Khadr of a war crime - not specifically for what he is alleged to have done, but because he allegedly did it on behalf of al-Qaida.]

SIEGEL: So far as we know, Khadr is still at Guantanamo or not?

GJELTEN: He is still at Guantanamo. His case has been adjudicated. And one of the reasons that this tape is coming out now is that his lawyers are trying to build up a case for why he should be treated more humanely.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Tom Gjelten talking with us about the first video of a Guantanamo interrogation that's been released publicly. And you can see an excerpt of that video at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Corrected: July 17, 2008 at 4:30 PM EDT
In this interview we said, "[Khadr] hasn't been accused of war crimes or anything like that. He's accused of throwing a hand grenade at a soldier in a combat situation." In fact, the U.S. government has accused Khadr of a war crime -- not specifically for what he is alleged to have done, but because he allegedly did it on behalf of al-Qaida.
Tom Gjelten reports on religion, faith, and belief for NPR News, a beat that encompasses such areas as the changing religious landscape in America, the formation of personal identity, the role of religion in politics, and conflict arising from religious differences. His reporting draws on his many years covering national and international news from posts in Washington and around the world.
Prior to his retirement, Robert Siegel was the senior host of NPR's award-winning evening newsmagazine All Things Considered. With 40 years of experience working in radio news, Siegel hosted the country's most-listened-to, afternoon-drive-time news radio program and reported on stories and happenings all over the globe, and reported from a variety of locations across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. He signed off in his final broadcast of All Things Considered on January 5, 2018.