Janet Hamlin/Pool/Postmedia News
Canadian defendant Omar Khadr attends his hearing in the courthouse for the U.S. military war crimes commission at the Camp Justice compound on Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base in Cuba.
Steven Edwards, Postmedia News · Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2010
NEW YORK — There is no evidence Omar Khadr has ever independently sought to promote peace with the West and renounce Muslim jihad, the internationally acclaimed psychiatrist who pioneered efforts to quantify evil reveals ahead of testifying about his examination of the Canadian-born terror suspect.
In an exclusive interview, Dr. Michael Welner says Khadr is known to have expressed peace-loving intentions only to “those advancing his public image” from behind the razor wire at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Dr. Welner also discounts much-cited comments by some U.S. guards at Guantanamo that the Toronto native is a “good kid” and “salvageable” — calling them “shallow in their prognostic significance.”
“When one leaps to the conclusion about Omar Khadr’s future because he is friendly, one might recall that Osama bin Laden has always been described as gentle, likable and charming,” New York-based Dr. Welner told Postmedia News.
“There is no record of [Mr. Khadr’s] publicly repudiating al-Qaida, as civilized Muslims should, not even a letter composed for him by Dennis Edney,” he added in a reference to one of Mr. Khadr’s two Canadian lawyers. There is “no call . . . to radical Islamists to mature beyond their elemental intolerance.”
Dr. Welner, 46, spoke as the Canadian government faces the prospect of soon receiving a call for Mr. Khadr to be transferred to a Canadian jail in the event he is convicted of war crimes charges he faces in a Guantanamo military commission.
Fifteen when captured, but now 24, Mr. Khadr could plead guilty as early as Monday if he sticks with a deal sources say has been put together by the U.S. government. It would see him sentenced to eight years imprisonment, with Washington’s pledge he could serve seven of them in Canada after the first year in one of the Guantanamo camps.
Mr. Khadr is accused in the fatal wounding of a U.S. serviceman during a 2002 firefight in Afghanistan, and faces up to life imprisonment if convicted without any plea deal being effected.
Dr. Welner, whose bid to achieve a scientific-legal standardization of evil led him to develop a Depravity Scale (www.depravityscale.org), spent seven to eight hours over two days interviewing Mr. Khadr during videotaped sessions at Guantanamo, and has studied mounds of documented material.
Though engaged by the prosecution after Mr. Khadr’s defence brought in a psychiatrist and two psychologists to boost their case, Dr. Welner insisted the U.S. government had no access to his questions.
“The U.S. government’s decision to retain me reflects their willingness to risk my arriving at an unhelpful opinion in order to gain the bottom line on Khadr,” Dr. Welner said. “Many who reach out to me walk away because they choose not to take that risk.”
Dr. Welner has not only played influential roles in high-profile U.S. cases such as the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart, but was asked to develop a psychological autopsy in the tragedy involving the late Canadian wrestler Chris Benoit, and has testified before the Ontario Supreme Court in the case of Romeo Phillion, who recanted his confession to the 1967 murder of an Ottawa firefighter.
In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks he was reportedly the first mental health expert to liken al-Qaida to a movement of traditional destructive cults rather than a product of poverty. He was also the first to denote last year’s shooting at the Fort Hood military base in Texas as ideological in origin.
Dr. Welner insisted he would reveal his interview — and evidence-based conclusions about Mr. Khadr only when called before Khadr’s Guantanamo military commission — but offered a parallel profile he said anyone could draw from the public record.
Because the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper has always resisted any repatriation, Canadian officials are expected to be keenly interested in the testimony Dr. Welner is scheduled to give at Mr. Khadr’s sentencing hearing, if he solidifies the deal by admitting guilt, or trial, if he doesn’t.
The picture that emerges could influence any degree to which Canada opposes any repatriation bid, which would be made according to a prisoner exchange treaty between Canada and the United States.
“There is no doubt Omar Khadr is socially agile, charming and more sophisticated than most of the other detainees,” he said. “When you combine those qualities with his fluency in English, it’s easy to see how he can connect with guards better than do his peers.”
But Dr. Welner also issued a potentially prescient warning with a reference to the alleged al-Qaida involvement of Khadr’s now-dead “aid worker” father, Egyptian-born Ahmed Khadr.
“Lest we forget,” Dr. Welner said, “Omar Khadr’s university-trained father, for whom Omar translated, was ‘good’ enough that others would give him their money for his orphanage — yet he was raising money for al-Qaida, and [was] a high-ranking member” of the terror group.
By July 2010, Dr. Welner had prepared a still-sealed 65-page report on Khadr that reflected a review of 100 sources of material including, he said, “notes from defence witnesses that supplemented my own.”
“In search of goodness, I have sought out any input documenting righteous and selfless deeds of Omar Khadr from inside custody, in particular toward non-Muslims, and will speak to what I found in my testimony,” he said.
Dr. Welner revealed that he questions the chorus of criticism from many on the Canadian and U.S. political left that the Canadian government has all but abandoned Mr. Khadr, saying that Canada has been “very good” to him.
“Publicly available records reflect that members of the Canadian foreign ministry have made visits to Guantanamo to check on Khadr’s every comfort, and Omar Khadr, not surprisingly, appreciated those visits,” he said.
“His family lives in Canada, and he is close to them. As for how Omar Khadr is, it is clear that he would rather live in Canada than Afghanistan or Pakistan. Who wouldn’t?”
It was a report by one of the Canadian officials visiting Khadr that included the U.S. guard comments he was “salvageable.”
“I think the comments reflect more instructively on the openness of the guards than on Khadr,” Dr. Welner explained. “In my experience, I consistently heard American military personnel guards speak of Khadr with respect and in human terms. That is a refreshing contrast to how subhuman [the] U.S. military captors have been portrayed by critics.”
Dr. Welner also appeared to express a degree of incredulity at the way Canada has received Mr. Khadr’s immediate family who, following the patriarch’s death in a Pakistani aerial anti-terrorist raid in Pakistan, has lived in Toronto.
“Canada repatriated his terrorist father after Ahmed Khadr’s arrest in Pakistan for collaborating on an Egyptian embassy bombing,” he said in reference to Pakistan’s 1998 claim. “Canada continues to provide public assistance to the Khadr family that they would not get elsewhere, including a pension to Ahmed Khadr while he was raising funds for al-Qaida; and a Canadian court released Omar Khadr’s brother Abdallah, notwithstanding that he is an admitted terrorist,” Dr. Welner added, drawing on his research beyond Guantanamo, which he said included review of more than “110 sources of information, plus pertinent academic literature.”