Mother of Omar Khadr felt powerless watching video
Published Wednesday, July 16, 2008 8:19AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, May 18, 2012 8:37PM EDT
TORONTO - The mother of Omar Khadr could only sit helplessly and watch Tuesday as her "tiny boy," accused in the death of a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan, cried out to her in a 2003 recording of a marathon Guantanamo Bay interrogation -- her first glimpse of him in more than six years.
In an exclusive interview at the family's east-end Toronto home, Maha Elsamnah told The Canadian Press she felt powerless to intervene as she watched the video of Khadr, then just 16, weeping for his mother during an interview with a Canadian intelligence agent.
"My son is calling for me and I'm sitting here," said Elsamnah, by turns stoic and distraught as she described seeing Khadr for the first time since he was taken into U.S. military custody following a deadly firefight in Afghanistan in 2002.
"I cried. I said, 'O God, please answer his call. I can't answer.' I wish I can tell him. What can I do? I'm here. I wish he can hear me answering back."
Part of the video, recorded in February 2003, shows Khadr sobbing uncontrollably. At one point, he whimpers a mantra that sounds like "Help me," but which Elsamnah said were in fact an Arabic expression meaning, "Oh, mother."
"I always heard his call in my dreams," she said. "But I don't know if he hears me crying."
Sitting in her living room, Elsamnah said "the baby face" and "tiny boy" she saw in the grainy, out-of-focus video looked exactly the way he did when she last saw him.
That was a week or two before the clash in Afghanistan that left the 15-year-old badly wounded and near death. It was during that skirmish, U.S. authorities allege, that Khadr threw the grenade that killed an American medic, Sgt. Christopher Speer.
At another point during in the interrogation, Khadr pleads for the chance to go back to Canada.
"There's not anything I can do about that," says the agent, whose identity is concealed from view. "I want to stay in Cuba with you. The weather is nice - no snow."
Both Elsamnah and Khadr's older sister, Zaynab, 28, expressed dismay at the response.
"He's sitting in a cell, in a cage, suffering from the heat. I don't think he sees that as a very nice thing. He's not there on a vacation. He's there because he's in jail," said Zaynab.
"It's just ridiculous to compare your vacation in Cuba to his stay in Cuba."
"Mockery!" Elsamnah interjected. "He's mocking him. He's mocking a kid. A grownup with freedom and free will is mocking a kid."
The Khadrs were once personal friends of terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden, a relationship fostered by the family patriarch Ahmed Said Khadr, who was killed in a gun battle with Pakistan forces in October 2003.
Omar's brother Karim, who suffered injuries in that same fight that left him paralyzed from the waist down, said he found it difficult to watch the video.
"I was very angry on the inside when I saw it - about what they made him go through for nothing," Karim said as he sat on the living room carpet.
"Why did they even want to interrogate him? He's only 16. They even make him feel worse. I'm pretty sure if there was any information inside him, the Americans had it already."
Elsamnah said she realizes that many Canadians blame her and her late husband for Khadr's plight. But she insisted that taking their outrage out on a child is unacceptable.
"I know they will say . . . it was a stupid family who took him there (but) Omar never went (to Afghanistan) to fight. We never went there to fight. We went there to help," she said.
"War is not fun - it will never bring happiness to anybody. War is miserable."