You Don't Like the Truth: Four Days Inside Guantanamo - Omar Khadr's Story
Last week marked 10 years since 15-year-old Canadian citizen, Omar Khadr, was taken into American custody in Afghanistan. Today, Omar is still detained in Guantanamo Bay.
The Children’s Human Rights Network recently held a screening of “You Don’t Like the Truth: Four Days Inside Guantanamo”, a powerful and often shocking documentary, which tells Omar’s story using a mix of interviews and footage filmed during the four days in which Canadian officials visited Omar in Guantanamo Bay. This footage was originally classified, but was released by the Supreme Court of Canada.
The film is divided into four days of footage, interspersed with comments from former detainees, lawyers and other contributors.
Day 1 – ‘Hope’
The footage shows Omar is clearly hopeful and excited by the presence of the Canadian representatives, repeatedly telling them how happy he was to see them. However, the Canadians who visited Omar were not consular officials; instead they had gone to interrogate Omar, as part of a joint venture between the Canadians and the CIA to exploit Omar as a source of intelligence. Throughout the day Omar was questioned about his father’s work in Afghanistan and alleged relationship with Osama Bin Laden. Still, Omar continued to tell the Canadians how happy he was to see them.
Day 2 – ‘Fallout’
On day 2 Omar began to realise the Canadians were not there to help him. Omar insisted that he had to tell them something, but repeatedly asked the Canadians to promise they would protect him from the Americans, saying he was scared.
He eventually explained that he had lied previously, saying only what he had to say because he had been tortured. Interviewees explained how Omar had been tortured at Bagram, following his capture by the Americans and despite being severely injured – Omar had been shot at least twice, had numerous injuries from shrapnel (including in his eye) and could not walk. In fact, because of rumours that he had been involved in the death of an American soldier, Omar’s treatment at Bagram was worse than the treatment of many other detainees – despite his injuries, and despite the fact that he was a child.
In interrogation at Guantanamo Omar found the Canadians were unwilling to listen to what he had to say. When he tried to show then his injuries, they simply told him that he was ‘healing well’ and ‘getting good medical care’. Omar began to cry, telling interrogators ‘You don’t want to help me.’ Still crying he began to call out ‘Ya ummi’ (Oh mother) over and over again, as he was left alone in the interrogation room, whilst interrogators watched him from outside.
Day 3 – ‘Blackmail’
The interrogators pressured Omar, saying they wanted to tell the Canadian government he was cooperating, and that they needed his assistance to contact and help his mother, sisters and brother.
They also talked about the events leading to Omar’s captures, which were also commented on by other interviewees for the documentary. Omar had been left with a group of militants by his father; Omar believed he was to act as a translator for them. The Americans surrounded the compound where the militants and Omar were, and began shooting and throwing grenades. The compound was decimated by the American attack, which also had air support. The Americans then went in to see if there were any survivors, and a single grenade killed Christopher Speer, a soldier of the elite Delta Force unit. The Americans alleged that Omar threw that grenade, but there remain significant doubts – some pictures indicating that Omar had already been shot and was lying injured on the ground by this point.
Back in the interrogation footage, Omar was told that ‘whining and denying what happened’ was counter-productive, and that he should ‘take responsibility’. The Canadians showed they were unwilling to help Omar or listen to what he had to say.
Day 4 – ‘Failure’
On the final day the Canadian officials continued their attempts to get Omar to confess and to get information about other individuals from him. He asked if they wanted him to lie, desperately insisting ‘I told you the truth. You don’t like the truth.’
The film was a truly shocking demonstration of the injustice suffered by those caught in the legal black hole of Guantanamo Bay. In this case, the complete failure of all those involved (including his own national government) to recognise Omar's particular status as a minor and a child soldier only serves to emphasise the cruelty and unfairness of his treatment. A fellow detainee at Bagram who witnessed some of the torture Omar suffered remembered the 15-year-old saying simply 'Nobody cares about me.'
The film was followed by a panel discussion with journalist and author, Andy Worthington, Amnesty International Campaigner, Danny Vannucchi, and Aisha Maniar, a representative from the London Guantanamo Campaign, which helped to bring us up to date with Omar's current situation. Omar was tried by a Guantanamo Military Commission Tribunal, and pleaded guilty to charges against him as part of a plea bargain.
Aisha talked about the injustice of Omar’s treatment and the way in which he has been betrayed by his own country. She also described how Omar’s trial, the first ever trial for war crimes allegedly committed as a minor, sets a terrible precedent for child soldiers around the world.
Andy talked about the need for Canada to act now. In order to avoid the risk of a much lengthier sentence (a military tribunal recommended 40 years’ imprisonment), Omar Khadr agreed to the plea bargain and was sentenced to 8 years imprisonment - with one year to be served at Guantanamo and then the possibility of transfer to Canada. That year was completed in October 2011 – but Omar is still held in Guantanamo Bay.
Danny took up the story, explaining that everything is ready for Omar’s return to Canada, he has applied, the US has agreed and Canada has said publicly that it is ready. However, Omar has still not been transferred and with no set time frame, the transfer could be stalled indefinitely. Many people feel that the Canadian government feels under pressure from certain elements of the media and is stalling for political reasons.
Public pressure could now help get Omar back to Canada after 10 years of injustice in Guantanamo Bay.
Please send the attached letter to the Minister of Public Safety in Canada, and see our previous post for a petition for Omar.
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.