The Miami Herald

Omar Khadr 'highly dangerous,' psychiatrist says

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba -- Confessed teen terrorist Omar Khadr is a dangerous threat to the West, a ``rock star'' who has ``been marinating in a radical Islamic community'' inside Guantánamo's showcase camp for cooperative captives, a forensic psychiatrist hired by the Pentagon told a military jury Tuesday.

``He is devout. He is angry,'' Dr. Michael Welner said. ``He identifies with his family, which has radical leanings. He is not remorseful and he is not westernized although he is very articulate and smooth.''

Welner's testimony was sure to rattle Khadr's native Canada, which stripped his family of their passports after years roaming between suburban Toronto and militant Muslim circles in Afghanistan. His father, killed in Pakistan, was an al Qaeda fundraiser and acolyte of Osama bin Laden.

The United States intends to send the Toronto-born Khadr, 24, back to Canada next year to serve out the remainder of an eight-year prison sentence as part of a plea bargain.

But the jury doesn't know it.

The judge, Col. Patrick Parrish, told them only that Khadr pleaded guilty to five war crimes on Monday, finally admitting that at age 15 he hurled the grenade that killed Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer, 28, of Albuquerque, N.M., trained with al Qaeda and planted anti-tank mines targeting U.S. forces.

Now, first the prosecution then the defense are calling witnesses in a contest of dueling portraits of Guantánamo's youngest captive.

The seven-officer jury will deliberate a sentence that Khadr would only serve if it undercuts the plea bargain -- something prosecutors clearly sought to avoid with Welner's testimony.

``He's highly dangerous,'' Welner said. ``He murdered. He has been part of al Qaeda. And we're still at war.''

In one of those curious twists of coexistence between captives and captor at Guantánamo, the Army judge interrupted the doctor's discourse on the dangers of radical Islam to give Khadr time for his afternoon prayers.

When it resumed, the psychiatrist expounded on Khadr's celebrity. His family had the ``stardust'' of proximity with the bin Ladens, he said. At Guantánamo, Khadr may be the youngest but his elders confer on him the honor of prayer leader. Welner argued that the Khadr case kept the spotlight on the controversial prison camps set up in 2002.

``He's drawn more attention to Cuba than Fidel,'' said Welner, who graduated from the University of Miami.

The Pentagon has yet to reveal how much it is paying Welner, who spent seven to eight hours meeting with Khadr over two days this summer and 500 to 600 hours preparing for the testimony. He's a bit of a celebrity, first for his invention of the ``Depravity Scale,'' which he didn't apply to Khadr, but also for his work on the Andrea Yates case, in which he found the mom knew right from wrong when she drowned her five children.

For the next couple of days, lawyers are calling victims, including Speer's widow, and mental health experts to talk about the damage Khadr did as a child and his prospects as an adult.

``I look forward to proving to the panel and the world that Omar Khadr is a kind, compassionate, and decent young man who deserves a first chance at a meaningful life,'' said Lt. Col. Jon Jackson, Khadr's Pentagon appointed defense lawyer.

First, though, Welner described Khadr as an irredeemable risk who likely cannot be successfully ``de-radicalized'' because, among other things, he passed his time at Guantánamo memorizing the Koran, leading prayers and reading Harry Potter in the company of hardened jihadists at the prison's camp for its most compliant prisoners.

``Radicalized Islam works on its own timetable,'' the doctor said.

If Khadr wanted to change, Welner argued, he would have applied himself to Western studies. When Welner asked Khadr about this, the Canadian replied that he needed a formal setting.




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