New Khadr film may be played in court at Guantanamo
Ian Munroe, CTV.ca News
Published Sunday, October 24, 2010 11:56AM EDT
When a pair of federal intelligence agents visited Guantanamo Bay seven years ago, they met Omar Khadr in a small neon-lit interrogation room and said, "I guess we're the first Canadians you've seen in a while."
"Canadians? Yeah, finally!" replied Khadr, who had been captured and detained by U.S. troops six months earlier, at the age of 15.
One of the interrogators then offered the teenager a Subway sandwich and a Coke, and asked Khadr to describe his life beginning with his earliest memory.
So begins "You Don't Like the Truth: 4 Days Inside Guantanamo," a documentary film built around seven hours of grainy surveillance footage depicting Khadr's February 2003 interrogation by a Canadian Security Intelligence Service agent and another federal intelligence official.
The Supreme Court ordered the video released to Khadr's lawyers in 2008, but the public has only seen about 10 minutes of the footage until now.
In the full video, the interrogations begin cordially but take an unfriendly turn after Khadr apparently realizes the Canadians have come to gather information rather than help repatriate him. At one point Khadr breaks down in sobs, saying "nobody cares about me."
The next day, interrogators continue pressing their subject about everything from his relationship with his father, to what he knows about Osama bin Laden, to how he wound up in an Afghan compound on July 27, 2002, as Taliban-linked militants fought to the death against American troops.
"I didn't do anything," Khadr says of the battle, in which he was badly injured. "I was in the house when the fighting started, then I didn't have any choice."
The U.S. government has accused Khadr of killing an American medic named Sgt. Christopher Speer by throwing a grenade in that firefight, and of supporting terrorism.
Khadr's lawyers argue that their client's father, a suspected al Qaeda financier who had ties to bin Laden, indoctrinated his son to take up violent jihad.
The 99-minute documentary paints a sympathetic portrait of Khadr as a child soldier who has lived in a legal black hole, and has allegedly endured torture by U.S. authorities since his capture in the Afghan mountains eight years ago.
Khadr, now 24, remains the youngest inmate at Guantanamo Bay and the last Western citizen imprisoned there. He is also the first to face trial by U.S. military tribunal since President Barack Obama was elected -- and the first person in more than half a century to face war crimes charges for alleged acts committed as a juvenile.
As such, his saga has received ample media attention. But Canadian filmmakers Luc Cote and Patricio Henriquez wanted to pull together different aspects of Khadr's case in the hopes of generating awareness about what they call a miscarriage of justice.
"Everybody knows a little bit of information here and there," Cote said in a phone interview. "But when you look at it all together and you have the bigger picture, I think you understand a little bit better what's going on."
"We're just trying to say, ‘Open your mind, open your heart to another point of view and perhaps you'll learn something here.'"
To do that the film presents evidence, including a photograph of Khadr immediately after the 2002 firefight, which suggests he may have been too badly injured to lob the grenade that killed Speer.
It also scrutinizes international law regarding the case, noting that Canada has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, under whose terms Khadr would be designated a child soldier because of his age when the gunfight occurred.
Several unexpected characters plead for Khadr's repatriation to Canada in the film. They include a retired psychiatrist with the U.S. military who assessed Khadr at Guantanamo, and a former American interrogator named Damien Corsetti who was stationed at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan while Khadr was held there.
Former detainees also make appearances, such as Moazzam Begg, who met Khadr while he was imprisoned at Bagram.
"He's spent his entire adolescence in Guantanamo and clearly knows nothing other than that," Begg, who now works for a human rights group in Britain, said by phone. "That's a big stain on the United States of America, but an even bigger one on Canada."
The film premiered in Montreal earlier this month, and got a strong reaction Wednesday on Parliament Hill when it was screened for MPs from the Bloc Quebecois, the Liberal party and the NDP.
Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe said the federal government "should be ashamed" for not requesting Khadr's repatriation, while New Democrat MP Wayne Marsten called Ottawa's treatment of Khadr "appalling."
"This is one of the most shameful events that we've had in this country," Marsten said later in an interview with CTV.ca. "The government should have been shouting from the rooftops to end this."
The film will premiere in Toronto this week and will debut internationally next month at the world's largest documentary film festival in Amsterdam. Amnesty International also hopes to hold screenings as far away as Hong Kong.
But the documentary's most important audience may take in the film at Guantanamo.
According to reports, Khadr could accept a plea deal with the Pentagon as early as Monday, which would see him serve a year in a U.S. prison and seven more in Canada.
Regardless of whether a deal is struck, his lawyers say they intend to play "You Don't Like the Truth" at trial or during his sentencing.
They have also shown Khadr the film twice. He was "initially sad at revisiting the painful experience," Dennis Edney, one of his Canadian lawyers, wrote in an email.
Edney played the film for Khadr a second time this week and wrote that, "he was pleased to hear that people cared for him."