Khadr saw Arar at al-Qaeda sites in Afghanistan: FBI agent

Omar Khadr pointed out Canadian Maher Arar, who was cleared of any links to terrorism by a public inquiry in 2006, as someone he saw at al-Qaeda safe houses and possibly training camps in Afghanistan, an FBI agent has testified.

Omar Khadr pointed out Canadian Maher Arar, who was cleared of any links to terrorism by a public inquiry in 2006, as someone he saw at al-Qaeda safe houses and possibly training camps in Afghanistan, an FBI agent has testified.

In this photo of a sketch by courtroom artist Janet Hamlin, reviewed by the U.S. military, Canadian defendant Omar Khadr sits during a hearing at the U.S. Military Commissions court for war crimes, at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on Monday. Khadr is accused of killing a U.S. soldier with a grenade during a battle in Afghanistan in 2002, when the Toronto native was 15. ((Janet Hamlin/Pool/CBC))

Speaking at a military commission hearing in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on Monday, FBI Special Agent Robert Fuller said a then teenaged Khadr identified Arar from black-and-white photos Fuller showed him during two weeks of interrogations.

The interrogations took place at Bagram airbase beginning Oct. 7, 2002 — three months after Khadr, who is accused of killing a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan, was captured in July. The U.S. Department of Defence interviewed Toronto-born Khadr about a dozen times after his capture.

"He identified [Arar] by name," Fuller said. 

"He said he had never seen him in Canada."

Arar was detained on Sept. 26, 2002, in New York on his way home from a family vacation and later deported to Syria, where he was held for more than 10 months on suspicion of terrorist activity and tortured.

The Syrian-born Canadian was later released and cleared of any connection to terrorism in 2006 by a Canadian commission that recommended he receive a $10.5-million settlement for the ordeal. The U.S., however, has refused to clear his name.

None of Fuller's testimony was cross-examined Monday.

Neither Arar nor his spokesman Richard Swain were commenting Monday on the Guantanamo Bay hearing. Arar has always maintained he was never in Afghanistan.

"If our minister of public safety isn't willing to give this any weight, why should any Canadian give it any weight?" Lorne Waldman, Arar's former lawyer, said of the allegations, referring to then public safety minister Stockwell Day.

Day saw the U.S. file on Arar before the Canadian government apologized to Arar and compensated him.

Lt.-Cmdr. Bill Kuebler, the Pentagon-appointed lawyer who is defending Khadr, warned Monday that his client regularly lied to his interrogators to avoid being abused.

Paul Cavalluzzo, who served as chief counsel for the Arar commission, said a statement elicited under such conditions would be meaningless.

"Was the statement a product of torture? Because if it was, it's completely useless," Cavalluzzo said.

"I think we need a lot more information before we even consider it further."

Fuller's testimony Monday followed that of a U.S. intelligence agent who interrogated Khadr at Guantanamo Bay and testified that Khadr admitted he threw a hand grenade during a 2002 firefight in Afghanistan "like he had seen in the movies."

The incident occurred after three other men at the bombed-out Afghan compound had been killed by American forces and Khadr, then 15 and partially blinded from shrapnel, cowered under a bush as the soldiers moved in, the female agent testified he told her.

"He pulled the pin and just chucked it over his shoulder," the agent, identified only as Interrogator 11, told the hearing.

"He had never thrown one before, so he just threw it over his shoulder, like he had seen in the movies."

The agent alleged Khadr initially expressed pride in killing a U.S. soldier, but later realized Americans saved his life.

Khadr appeared before the proceedings Monday dressed in the all-white uniform of Camp 4, where "highly compliant" prisoners are kept. Captured at age 15, the 22-year-old seemed relaxed during the proceedings, smiling broadly, chatting with his lawyers and reading documents intently.

Lawyers allege aggressive interrogation

Lawyers for Khadr have argued all of the statements he gave to government officials during that time shouldn't be admissible, because they were received under aggressive interrogation or torture.

The witness said, however, that she never yelled at Khadr, whom she described as "very happy" to speak with her about the firefight and his training in Afghanistan by top al-Qaeda officials who were associates of his father, Ahmed Said Khadr. The elder Khadr was killed in a shootout with Pakistani forces near the Afghanistan border in 2003.

"When he would come to the room, he was always smiling," she said. "He would willingly speak to me."

During cross-examination, defence lawyers tried to pick holes in the testimony, but the agent stood her ground.

The agent denied promising he would go home if he co-operated with her. She was also unable to explain why she destroyed her notes of the interrogation sessions after she had typed them up.

Judge denies request to call off proceedings

The testimony came after a U.S. military judge denied a request by Khadr's defence lawyer to call off proceedings in his case over a procedural dispute between defence and prosecution lawyers at the military tribunals.

A top Pentagon official withdrew the charges against all detainees last month in a move prosecutors said was a formality in order to add members to the tribunal.

Khadr's defence lawyer Kuebler argued before the court that all charges must be laid again, and the trials must start over.

Col. Patrick Parrish, the judge overseeing the Khadr case, sided with the prosecutors and ruled the cases would not have to start anew, the CBC's Susan Ormiston reported from Guantanamo Bay.

"The judge said, 'No, we are going to proceed with the motions before us today,' " she said.

Kuebler also asked Parrish to delay the pretrial hearings until March because the defence team hadn't had enough time to get all the evidence they needed.

In arguing for an adjournment, Kuebler said he needed more records to help determine whether a third person was found alive in the rubble of the compound near Khost, Afghanistan, where a badly injured Khadr was captured in July 2002.

Guantanamo closure coming, Obama aides say

The Pentagon alleges Khadr, the only Westerner remaining in detention at Guantanamo, threw the hand grenade that killed a U.S. soldier in the aftermath of a battle. He is accused of:

  • Murder in violation of the law of war.
  • Attempted murder in violation of the law of war.
  • Conspiracy. 
  • Providing material support for terrorism.
  • Spying.

Subsequent disclosures from the U.S. military have cast doubt on whether he threw the grenade.

The military commission process is part of an offshore legal system that U.S. president-elect Barack Obama is expected to put in limbo, perhaps as early as Wednesday.

Aides have said Obama will order the prison camp closed almost as soon as he is sworn in as president on Tuesday, although it is unclear how long the closing will take and what the new administration will do with prisoners long held in an U.S.-controlled piece of Cuba.

The military commission process, a cornerstone of outgoing President George W. Bush's approach to captives in the U.S. battle against terrorism, has been hobbled by allegations that crucial evidence was extracted under torture.

9/11 co-accused back before tribunal

In another court at the U.S. naval base, five of the alleged co-conspirators in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks faced similar procedural arguments on Monday.

During the proceedings, two of the accused casually admitted guilt during a series of outbursts as the translators struggled to keep up and the judge repeatedly sought to regain control.

"We did what we did; we're proud of Sept. 11," Ramzi Binalshibh announced at one point in proceedings that dealt with a number of legal issues, including whether he is mentally competent to stand trial on charges that carry a potential death sentence.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-proclaimed architect of the 9/11 attacks, shrugged off the potential death sentence he faces for charges that include the murder of nearly 3,000 people.

"We don't care about capital punishment," he said. "We are doing jihad for the cause of God."

Mohammed, who is representing himself, switched back and forth between Arabic and English, insisting at one point that a uniformed military lawyer assigned to assist him be removed from his defence table.

The man, he said, represents the "people who tortured me."

With files from the Canadian Press and the Associated Press