The Miami Herald

Ex-Army interrogator testifies for Omar Khadr

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba -- A former U.S. Army interrogator known to captives at a lockup in Afghanistan as ``The Monster'' testified Wednesday that he felt sorry for a gravely wounded, recently captured Omar Khadr because ``he was probably in one of the worst places on Earth.''

``He was in the wrong place for a 15-year-old child to be,'' former Army Spc. Damien Corsetti testified as Khadr's first defense witness in the seventh day of a hearing seeking to persuade a military judge to exclude all of the Toronto-born teenager's confessions from his summertime trial on grounds of abuse.

In a key piece of testimony, beamed by videoconference from Arlington, Va., Corsetti described attending an intelligence in-processing interview of a frightened Khadr at the Bagram field hospital on July 29, 2002. U.S. troops captured Khadr two days earlier, near dead and shot twice through the back in a Special Forces raid on a suspected al Qaeda stronghold.

``More than anything, he looked beat up,'' said Corsetti, who introduced himself to the court as a disabled veteran suffering post traumatic stress disorder as a result of his interrogation work in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

Col. Donna Hershey, who was head nurse at Bagram at the time, testified earlier for prosecutors that no interrogators questioned the critically wounded Canadian at her hospital. The hospital commander, Col. James Post Army, said interrogators would be allowed into his hospital for "about a minute, 90 seconds,'' to ask a detainee his name and perhaps his date of birth.

"Our place was a place of healing,'' he said. "It was not a place of interrogations.''

A decorated Army master sergeant testified anonymously on Tuesday that he observed Khadr's very first interrogation on Aug. 12, two weeks later after four rounds of life saving surgery.

But Corsetti said interrogators first saw Khadr tethered to a monitor that measured his heart rate and used a tin of chewing tobacco to measure the size of his chest wound -- and found it ``looked so big you could fit a can of Copenhagen into it.''

Defense attorneys argue that the military mistreated Khadr and created a coercive environment that discredit the truthfulness and reliability of his later confessions to throwing a hand grenade that killed U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer, 28.

Prosecutors defend the youth's treatment as a terror suspect, and say he boasted voluntarily to planting land mines in Afghanistan meant to kill American soldiers and earn him $1,500 a head as well as to throwing the grenade.

He is charged with murder as a war crime and conspiring with al Qaeda. The Pentagon prosecutor swore out charges that seek life in prison, if convicted, rather than execution because of his age.

Defense lawyers called Corsetti, who was acquitted of detainee abuse in a 2006 court martial, to offer an alternative view of life in 2002 at the so-called Bagram Collection Point during a time when he said interrogators were under pressure to deliver results to the office of the Secretary of Defense.

Government witnesses portrayed it as a by-the-book, well-run humane facility where confessions were voluntary and, according to a medic, appropriate punishment was meted out to detainees by shackling them by the arms to a cage.

Later this week, defense lawyers planned to call an interrogator who was court-martialed for detainee abuse, identified in Canadian media as former Army Sgt. Joshua Claus, for questioning about Khadr's Aug. 12, 2002, interrogation -- under sedation, on a stretcher and hours after his release into the general population facility.

In his testimony, Corsetti said he was known to detainees as ``The Monster'' and Khadr was known to the guards as ``Buckshot Bob,'' because of his several gunshot wounds.

Corsetti, wearing a sweater and tie and addressing everyone as ``sir,'' like an enlisted soldier, described a range of U.S.-approved interrogation tactics in use at Bagram at the time -- screaming, throwing and breaking things, shackling detainees into so-called stress positions and threatening to send them to interrogation in Israel or Egypt.

But he said he never used such tactics on Khadr because he was not assigned to interrogate him. Instead, he said, he socialized with the boy between interrogation sessions by bringing him books and talking about cars and video games. By the time Khadr turned 16, and was sent to Guantánamo for more interrogations and eventual trial, ``He went from a smiling young kid to a look of defeat by the time he left.''

In contrast, the government called a retired Army Reserves colonel from California, ophthalmologist Marjorie Mosier, to describe how she repaired Khadr's shrapnel lacerated eyes at Bagram -- on short notice after she was scrambled from a base in Kuwait, using larger-than-typical surgical tools because those were all that were available -- and her surprise afterward to realize that her patient was just 15 years old.

``He was large and well nourished and didn't appear to be young at all,'' she said. ``He answered me appropriately and he didn't manifest any behavior other than what I would have expected from an alert, calm adult.''

Mosier said she was able to save the sight in his right eye but not his left during her three-day deployment to Afghanistan, for which Khadr never offered his thanks.

Army Lt. Col. Jon Jackson, the Canadian's Pentagon appointed defense lawyer, opened his cross examination with a belated ``thank you'' on behalf of his client, who was watching with his one good eye from just 15 feet away in the white prison camp uniform of a compliant captive.

``That's very nice,'' she said.




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