Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Detailed notes from Khadr interviews destroyed

Lawyer: Gitmo Interrogators Told to Trash Notes

Detailed notes from Khadr interviews destroyed

Steven Edwards

Canwest News Service

Sunday, June 08, 2008

NEW YORK - A formerly secret document shows the Pentagon allowed its Guantanamo Bay interrogators to destroy notes they took of interrogations - a policy Omar Khadr's lawyers say denies them the chance to challenge the legitimacy of any "confessions" he made.

Navy Lt.-Cmdr. Bill Kuebler, Khadr's lead military attorney, stumbled over the interrogation directive as he reviewed prosecution-held documents at the prosecution office of the Pentagon's war crimes commissions.

While he was denied permission to walk out with them, he said he made careful notes - and on Monday is submitting an affidavit of what he learned to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The affidavit quotes from the Pentagon's "standard-operating procedure" manual for so-called Tiger Teams, which typically consisted of an analyst and an interrogator who would together question terror suspects held at the U.S. naval base in Cuba .

The directive is significant because Khadr has said he was subjected to coercive interrogation techniques after U.S. forces seized him in Afghanistan in 2002. Kuebler says interrogators' initial handwritten notes may have corroborated those claims because - unlike later typed summaries - they would typically detail everything that went on.

"By destroying handwritten notes containing 'interrogation information' and preserving only the sanitized summaries, interrogators effectively destroyed evidence of illegal treatment of detainees - as well as evidence that could be used to contradict the statements recorded in the summaries," Kuebler said in a statement.

At hearings in Guantanamo , prosecutors have responded to Kuebler's requests for the handwritten interrogation notes by saying most appeared to have been lost or mislaid. But the SOP directive appears to suggest that those that existed were destroyed to minimize the chance interrogators ever have to explain how they extracted information.

"There has never been a public disclosure that says the government destroyed evidence for the purpose of obstructing justice," Kuebler said in an interview from his Washington office, charging the destruction constitutes a "violation of ( U.S. ) federal and military law."

Kuebler believes most of the prosecution's case against Khadr is based on statements the Toronto-born youth made under interrogation - first during the three months he was held at the Bagram detention centre in Afghanistan , later since his transfer to Guantanamo Bay .

He said the newly discovered directive may represent grounds for asking that all Khadr's statements - and thereby the case against him - be dismissed.

According to Kuebler's notes, the directive says: "Once . . . created, handwritten interrogator notes may be destroyed. This mission has legal and political issues that may lead to interrogators being called to testify, keeping the number of documents with interrogation information to a minimum can minimize certain legal issues."

Kuebler will submit details of his find to the Supreme Court as it prepares to rule this month on the constitutionality of laws that prevent Guantanamo or other detainees declared "enemy combatants" from claiming habeas corpus rights to challenge the legality of their detention.

While Khadr is one of 37 detainees who were part of that action, he is now charged with five war crimes, including murder in the death of a U.S. serviceman.

To date, the prosecution has produced no handwritten notes of Khadr's interrogations at Bagram, where his lead interrogator was a Sgt. Joshua Claus, who was later court martialled for his role in the death of a detainee at the facility, as well as for other prisoner abuse.

The prosecution has handed over only a handful of handwritten notes of interrogations of Khadr in Guantanamo , where he has said he underwent abuse that included rape threats and being used as a mop to clean the floor of urine.

© Canwest News Service 2008

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