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Former Khadr Interrogators Had Been Charged for Detainee Abuse

by Steven Edwards

U.S. NAVAL BASE GUANTANAMO, Cuba - A former army interrogator known as The Monster testified Wednesday that he assisted at a bedside "screening" of Omar Khadr the day the Canadian-born terror suspect arrived with severe battlefield injuries at a U.S. military hospital in Afghanistan.

Damien Corsetti, who was acquitted after being court martialled on charges linked to detainee abuse, said he couldn't recall exactly what was asked of Khadr, then 15, by the lead questioner.

But he said such interviews typically went beyond a basic search for biographical information to include questions about a detainee's military training, his knowledge of Soviet-issued weapons, and why he thinks he's been captured.

Khadr, now 23, faces murder among five war crimes charges for allegedly tossing a hand grenade that killed a U.S. soldier during the July 27, 2002 firefight that led to his capture.

His defence lawyers are likely to try to characterize the hospital screening as a full-blown interrogation when they question a former soldier who became Khadr's main interrogator after the Toronto native was transferred Aug. 12 from the hospital wing of the detention centre in Bagram, Afghanistan, to the main holding area.

The former soldier is expected to testify from somewhere in the United States Thursday via video link with Khadr's war crimes prosecution hearing at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

His defence lawyers say he faced coercion and torture in at least some interrogations in Bagram and at the detention camps in Guantanamo. As such, they say self-incriminating statements Khadr made should be thrown out as prosecution evidence.

Insiders hinted that the main interrogator was also present at the initial "screening," which took place July 28, 2002.

The main interrogator is being identified in court as Interrogator Number 1, but he has been widely identified in the media for years as former army Sgt. Joshua Claus, who was court-martialled for abusing prisoners at Bagram, and was involved in an interrogation of a detainee who died.

Corsetti said he noted that one of the machines monitoring Khadr at the time of the screening displayed readings that would "increase significantly" as questions were posed. He said he was unable to recall whether it was a heart or respiratory monitor.

Corsetti also said he felt "compassion" for Khadr.

"He was a 15-year-old child who had been blown up, shot, grenaded," he said. "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."

Khadr's bullet wounds and shrapnel injuries were so extensive that he was known in Bagram as Buckshot BOB, Corsetti recalled - the acronym BOB applying to all detainees, and standing for Bad Odour Boys.

The prosecution says Khadr did not face coercion during interrogations, and has called witnesses who've testified he had multiple chances to complain of his treatment before he issued an affidavit February 2008 alleging a catalogue of abuse.

According to the prosecution, Khadr "fabricated" the claims after he realized he would not be repatriated to Canada, but prosecuted.

While Corsetti said he developed a "friendly" rapport with Khadr following their initial encounter, he insisted he never encouraged the detainees he spoke with to offer their complaints about other interrogators.

"I was pretty busy when I was there," he said. "As much as I liked Mr. Khadr . . . I would have told (him) or other prisoners bringing up issues with me that they needed to talk to their interrogators about it."

He also said the barking of dogs was within Khadr's "earshot" after his discharge from the hospital - as was screaming that occurred "continuously" in the detention centre.

But Corsetti, who has spoken frequently about abuses he saw at Bagram, testified he was unaware of any maltreatment of Khadr.

Corsetti appears in the documentary Taxi to the Dark Side, which is critical of the "war on terrorism" during the administration of former president George W. Bush. The defence seeks to present the film as "evidence" in a bid to illustrate the atmosphere at Bagram when Khadr was held there.

Army Col. James Post, hospital commander at the time, insisted no interrogations took place in the hospital, and that the screenings did not constitute one.

He stated as "absolutely impossible" an assertion Khadr makes in his affidavit that his feet and hands were shackled out to his sides, and that he was interrogated for hours.

At the time, Khadr was in a small intensive care unit alongside U.S. soldiers, including a U.S. army general, court has heard.

Arriving at the hospital unconscious, Khadr awoke less that two days after being shot during the firefight, and was soon saying he was hungry, Post testified.

Khadr's affidavit says, by contrast, he regained consciousness about a week after being captured, and was "out of my wits for about three days."

Khadr also got his first glimpse of ophthalmologist Marjorie Mosier since she restored his shrapnel-shattered eyes within days of his arrival at Bagram.

A former army reserve colonel, Mosier testified she had flown - at the military's urgent request - from her base in the Middle East because there were no eye surgeons available in Bagram.

"I was extremely surprised," she said of meeting a North-American accented English-speaking youth in custody as an al-Qaida suspect. "It was not my idea of what I was going to run into."

Mosier operated, and saved Khadr's right eye, but feared she would be unable to do the same for the left one, in which Khadr is today blind.

Khadr expressed his thanks to Mosier in court through Lt. Col. Jon Jackson, the military attorney on his civilian-led defence team.

He had not thanked her when in Bagram, she testified in answer to a prosecution question.

Corsetti had been called by the defence, describing himself as a "disabled veteran" diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from his time in Afghanistan and also Iraq.

Corsetti, who testified via video link from Arlington, Va., recalled his first visual impressions of Khadr at the July 28, 2002 screening.

"More than anything, he looked beat up," he said. "One of the wounds was large enough that you could fit a whole can of Copenhagen in it, and that sticks in my memory," he added, referring to a smokeless tobacco product whose tin is a little smaller that a hockey puck.