An Op-Ed article in the New York Times by Dr. Stephen Xenakis - a retired brigadier general and Army medical corps officer with 28 years of active service. He is an Adjunct Clinical Professor at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences with an active clinical and consulting practice, and has been a senior adviser to the Department of Defense on neurobehavioral conditions and medical management.
Dr. Xenakis spent over 200 hours interviewing Omar Khadr over period of years as opposed to the 16 hours over two days by Dr. Welner, the prosecution's psychiatric expert and he comes to a much different conclusion then Dr. Welner upon which VikiLeaks Toews chose to rely in demonizing Omar Khadr on his return to Canada.
LATE last month the American military flew a man named Omar Khadr from the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where he had been a detainee since 2002, back to Canada, the country of his birth. Mr. Khadr’s repatriation was part of an informal agreement between the two countries after his 2010 guilty plea for murdering an American soldier.
Mr. Khadr, who now sits in a maximum-security facility in Canada, was supposed to be moved out of Guantánamo in October 2011. But the Canadian government voiced concerns over his potential threat, and his transfer was delayed for another year. While he will certainly spend more time in prison, the Canadian government has yet to announce how long, or when he will be eligible for parole.
Is Omar Khadr a threat to national security? These questions, and the way his case has been handled, reveal a great deal about the way we approach national security and detainees. Some of the Guantánamo detainees, as we know, are dangerous men. Others, like Omar Khadr, are emphatically not.
I served 28 years in the United States Army and had the privilege of commanding thousands of troops as a brigadier general before I retired. I am also a psychiatrist who, as an expert on post-traumatic stress disorder and concussion, was asked to evaluate Mr. Khadr. I have spent hundreds of hours with him since 2008 and have thoroughly reviewed the findings of my colleagues as well as the interviews and reports by the prosecution’s experts. From my first involvement in this case, I have kept America’s national security interest foremost in my thinking and integrated it into my assessment as a psychiatric expert.
There was no question that Mr. Khadr suffered life-threatening injuries, as well as concussions, in a firefight that led to his capture, in 2002, at a compound in Afghanistan. He was 15 years old and had been sent there by his father to translate for Libyans training Afghan fighters on how to make improvised explosive devices.
As a result of wounds received from a grenade blast during the attack, an American soldier died 10 days later. Mr. Khadr was the only one of the compound’s residents to survive, and he was charged with throwing the grenade (even though it was an American-made weapon and unlikely to be in the enemy’s arsenal).
Mr. Khadr arrived at Guantánamo in January 2002 and spent the next 10 years there, until his transfer. In 2003 Pakistani forces killed his father, who had allegedly been helping to finance operations by Al Qaeda. Mr. Khadr’s younger brother was partially paralyzed in the same attack.
In 2010 Mr. Khadr pleaded guilty to the murder charge before a Military Commission tribunal. Canadian authorities have cited that plea as a reason for considering him a national security threat.
And yet in one of the most bitter ironies of the case, he has supposedly been influenced by radical jihadist thinking while at the Guantánamo detention camps. The psychiatrist for the prosecution, testifying during Mr. Khadr’s sentencing, depicted him as “marinating” in jihadist thinking while at Guantánamo and, therefore, still a security threat.
Clearly, no one assumes that Guantánamo is for rehabilitation. But the Canadian government asserts that given this combination of nature and nurture, Mr. Khadr could be a leader for Al Qaeda or other radical terrorist groups. It had asked for the video of the psychiatrist’s interview before deciding to accept him in transfer.
Surprisingly, the Canadians never contacted my colleague or me to discuss our reports to the Canadian minister of public safety. We sent these reports in March 2011 and disagreed with the findings of the prosecution’s experts. One would think that an objective assessment of an individual’s threat to security would entail gathering all expert opinions and analyzing them before making a decision.
That’s not what happened here, which leads me to believe that the questions over Mr. Khadr’s threat to Canadian security are more about partisan politics then actually protecting the safety of the country’s citizens.
A corollary to the question of whether Mr. Khadr is a terrorist threat is how effective the American and Canadian counterterrorism programs are. Both countries have dedicated immense resources to the effort since 9/11. It is no secret that intelligence agencies have infiltrated radical groups and Muslim organizations, despite the objection of these communities. As a result, Omar Khadr can expect to be closely monitored for the rest of his life. Even the slightest step he takes to affiliate with radical or terrorist groups will evoke a quick reaction from governmental authorities.
All of this is, however, somewhat beside the point of Mr. Khadr’s peculiar case. He is labeled a “murderer” for an act he allegedly committed when he was 15 years old. Plain common sense, as well as neuroscience, says that his attitudes and conduct are far different today than they were when he was a young adolescent.
After spending hundreds of hours with Mr. Khadr, I am confident that he firmly disavows interest in political and military issues and wants no involvement in any such activities. He affirms his intent to lead a normal life as a Canadian citizen, have a family and work in the health care field, if he can.
Branding Mr. Khadr as a radical jihadi plays into the fear factor of partisan politics. That is not good for the peace and stability of our communities and citizens; exploiting fear and prejudice does not make for strong national security. Mr. Khadr has become the poster child for many in the world who have been unjustly victimized. The better option is to expeditiously prepare him to make the transition to society and get on with his life.
Dr. Michael Welner, the prosecution's star witness at Khadr's military commission trial in October 2010. Welner concluded Khadr, 25, was an unrepentant and dangerous jihadist.
And who exactly is Dr. Michael Welner? Jonathon Kay of the National Post looked into his background and found he was on par with other purveyors of junk science - this case Dr. Welner has his "depravity scale". Kay quotes an article in the Literary Review of Canada by Reg Whitaker supplies some clues. (Whitaker, in case you haven’t heard of him, is Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus at York University, member of the Advisory Panel to Justice O’Connor on the Commission of Inquiry into the Maher Arar affair, and advisor to the Commission of Inquiry into the Air India bombing on the aviation security aspects of the Air India bombing — among other distinctions).
Welner is the inventor of something called the Depravity Scale that purports to measure criminals by the extent of their cruelty and brutality. Others have described this as junk science in which the moralism of the investigator undermines objectivity. Moralistic self-righteousness is certainly evident in statements he makes about Omar Khadr, who in Welner’s view is right off the Depravity Scale. This is evident in a bizarre appendix [to Ezra Levant's recent book] entitled, like a comedy sketch in some late-night TV show, “73 Reasons Omar Khadr Is Dangerous, According to Dr. Michael Welner.” This weird list says more about the minds of Welner and Levant than the mind of Khadr. Welner was supposed to prepare a psychiatric assessment of the potential danger posed by Khadr’s eventual release. Although he billed for hundreds of hours, Welner admitted that he spent only about 1.5 percent of his time actually interviewing Omar, whom he clinically described as a “radical jihadist.” The trouble was, this so-called top forensic psychiatrist in the United States had no previous experience dealing with radicalized Muslim youth. He had, however, heard of a Danish doctor, Nicolai Sennels, who had developed an assessment framework for former jihadists released from prison, which Welner proposed to apply to Khadr. Under cross-examination, Welner admitted that he had not actually read Sennels’s book, since it was only in Danish — although he had had one telephone conversation with him.
And who is this Danish doctor, Nicolai Sennels? Kay writes:
But it turns out he’s a garden variety Islamophobe who has written that “massive inbreeding within the Muslim culture during the last 1,400 years may have done catastrophic damage to their gene pool,” and warned about the “immature and psychologically unhealthy culture of Islam.”
“In an open letter to British prime minister David Cameron,” Whitaker notes, “Sennels opposed the Turkish bid to join the European Union. Describing the Koran as ‘a criminal book that forces people to do criminal things,’ he declared that Turkish immigrants are ‘incapable’ of integrating into ‘high-tech’ societies because widespread inbreeding in Turkey has dangerously lowered their IQ. Welner confessed to sharing some of Sennels’s political views. Which ones? We are not told.”
I’m wondering, Mr. Toews: If we were assessing the right of a Canadian black citizen to return to Canada, would we rely on the testimony of an “expert” whose “expertise” derived from the work of a bigot who railed against black immigration because blacks have lower IQs?
In any event, there you have it. From the mind of some Danish Islamophobic crackpot, to a credulous “expert witness” deployed by Khadr’s prosecutors, to the appendix of Levant’s hysterical book, and into the fevered mind of our Public Safety Minister, who’s last brush with fame was telling Canadian civil libertarians that they are all a bunch of child pornographers.
This is typical of the approach the Harper government has taken in dismissing expert opinions by eminently qualified experts where it does not accord with their partisan political view and go with crackpot junk science.
Hopefully Corrections Canada and the National Parole Board have the native expertise to sort out the crackpot opinions from the likes of Welner and Toews when assessing Omar Khadr.
Edited by Wetcoaster, 11 October 2012 - 05:46 PM.