‘The Monster’ Testifies at Gitmo Hearing

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Wednesday, May 05, 2010 at 3:05 pm
Bagram

Soldiers at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan (army.mil)

GUANTANAMO BAY — His nickname wasn’t “Monster,” he admonished the lawyer. It was “The Monster.” That was what the Bagram Collection Point’s interrogators, guards — and most especially detainees — called Army interrogator Damien Corsetti. And it was important to him that the court correctly record his story.

Back then — in 2002 at Bagram, and later at Iraq’s notorious Abu Ghraib prison — Corsetti was as fearsome as his handle. Although acquitted, he went before a court-martial proceeding related to the abuse of a detainee in Iraq. Now, Corsetti is an unemployed veteran of two wars, unable to work because of post-traumatic stress disorder, and an infamous figure in the U.S.’s post-9/11 history of torture.

[Security1] But he testified on Wednesday morning from a remote location on behalf of one of the former inmates at Bagram whom he used to intimidate and brutalize: Omar Khadr, the 23-year old Canadian citizen who has been in U.S. custody for nearly eight years. The large man once known as “The Monster” — the nickname is tattooed in Italian on his stomach — provided rare sworn testimony about the abuse of detainees in U.S. custody in the Afghanistan war’s early days, the product of what he described as command pressure for intelligence and unclear rules about permissible interrogator behavior.

Corsetti didn’t directly interrogate Khadr, he told the court, but he spoke to Khadr at least two to three times a week from August to October 2002, after which Khadr was transferred here. “He was a child,” said an occasionally emotional Corsetti. “He was a 15-year old child who had been blown up, shot and grenaded. He was in one of the worst places on the earth. How could you not have compassion for that? … He was in the wrong place for a 15-year old child to be.”

It was the first moment during seven days of Khadr’s pre-trial hearing, meant to determine whether the statements Khadr gave to his interrogators may be used against him in his July military commission, that an interrogator described Khadr as a “child.” Other interrogators, testifying for the prosecution, described him clinically as a “15-year old” or “mature” or otherwise resisted the characterization of Khadr as a juvenile. Almost simultaneously with Corsetti’s testimony, Radhika Coomaraswamy, the United Nations special representative for children and armed conflict, called for Khadr’s release and decried the “dangerous international precedent” the Obama administration is setting by prosecuting him for war crimes.

That wasn’t the only time Corsetti contradicted earlier testimony. The witness before Corsetti, Army Col. Donna Hershey, the former chief nurse at Bagram, testified that she never allowed any interrogators to question detainees in Bagram’s hospital. But Corsetti testified that the first time he met Khadr, and the only time he was present for any questioning of Khadr, occurred in the hospital, on July 29, 2002, two days after Khadr suffered near-fatal wounds during his capture after a Khost, Afghanistan firefight.

“I would assume from his condition he was under excruciating pain,” Corsetti said. Despite the pain, and despite the questioning’s presentation to the court as a preliminary, in-processing brief, the questioning appeared to involve the acquisition of intelligence information, including “what kind of military training” Khadr had; what Khadr believed his offenses were that landed him in Bagram; his “knowledge of Soviet-issued weapons”; and general questions to assess “his cooperation and knowledgeability.” That spoke directly to the purpose of the hearing: To determine whether Khadr’s statements to interrogators, and information that followed from them, were coerced from him to a point rendering them unusable by the government at trial.

The pressure to acquire intelligence information was the overriding theme of Corsetti’s testimony. His unit, Alpha Company of the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion, then stationed at Bagram, had to file between “20 to 40 reports a week” or hear from higher command to complain about them “stagnat[ing].” That pressure, Corsetti said, came from the Afghanistan war command and the “Office of the Secretary of Defense” — and produced a command environment that encouraged detainee abuse.

“The only clear cut rules I remember was we weren’t allowed to strike the prisoners,” Corsetti said, and that interrogators couldn’t directly threaten detainees. “But we could do what we called ‘plant the seed’” of threats, and “let their imagination run wild with it.” One example, consistent with an affidavit Khadr submitted about his treatment at Bagram, was to suggest that detainees cooperate with interrogators to avoid being sent for more brutal treatment in other countries. “Egypt and Israel were the two big ones,” he said.

Corsetti also testified that detainees at Bagram were “regularly” placed in forced contorted positions known as “stress positions” (and, later, “safety positions,” according to an interrogator who testified on Tuesday). “Stress positions were used to inflict pain on the prisoners, to elicit information from them,” Corsetti said, rocking back and forth in his chair. “At any given time, there was always one airlock occupied by a prisoner shackled, blindfolded, earmuffed with his hands above his head.” That description came close to matching one given by an anonymous Bagram medic, known as Mr. M, who testified Monday to seeing Khadr shackled to the outermost door of his cell — known as an airlock or sallyport — with his hands shackled at about forehead-level. The level of positioning for a detainee’s restrained arms would “depend on the length of the chain they used from the top of the cage,” Corsetti calmly recounted.

Asked if he knew if Khadr would have been put in a stress position, Corsetti replied, “I can’t say if it was done to him, but it was something I would have done.”
Corsetti’s lack of direct knowledge of Khadr’s treatment repeatedly aroused objections from the chief government prosecutor, Jeffrey Groharing, a retired Marine major, pushing Corsetti’s testimony to nearly two hours. Groharing argued that the defense could only question Corsetti about any treatment of Khadr that Corsetti directly observed. But Col. Patrick Parrish, the judge presiding over Khadr’s military commission, responded that the hearing’s admission of hearsay evidence — ironically, one of the biggest civil-libertarian objections to the commissions — could work in the defense’s favor, as it had for the prosecution.

Groharing has called eight interrogators to testify so far about direct interactions with Khadr. All have largely portrayed their interrogations and interviews with him as free and uncoerced. But later this week, the defense intends to call to the stand someone known to the court as “Interrogator #1,” who interrogated Khadr at Bagram and who is expected to testify to threatening Khadr with rape.

For all the command pressure for intelligence and the harsh treatment that resulted at Bagram, Corsetti said he wasn’t sure whether it resulted in accurate intelligence. “I got some very good information while I was there and I got some very bad information while I was there,” he said.

He last saw Khadr shortly before the detainee’s October 2002 transfer to Guantanamo Bay. “I can’t say if he was afraid or not,” Corsetti said. “I remember he went from a smiling 15 year old kid to a look of defeat before he left.”

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Comments

52 Comments

jeffkaye
Comment posted May 6, 2010 @ 2:11 am

Great reporting, Spencer!


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CJ
Comment posted May 7, 2010 @ 1:33 am

Yaay for the US violating our own laws. Of course I can't say he'd be in any better of a situation if he was a US Citizen seeing as how he would probably still be tried as an adult even though he was barely old enough to drive when he was arrested.


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Piobair
Comment posted May 7, 2010 @ 11:05 am

It's worth noting that the “war crime” he's accused of committing is pitching a grenade at troops of an invading foreign army (us), behavior explicitly allowed under the 3rd Geneva Convention, which requires that indigenous irregular fighters be treated humanely with the same rights as extended to uniformed military POW's. Defending your country against a foreign invader doesn't make you a terrorist. Torturing 15 year old children does.


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morty62
Comment posted May 7, 2010 @ 4:36 pm

If you were French, wearing street clothes and fighting in “the resistance” during WWll and ambushed a squad of German soldiers then you would be considered a war hero. Yet this kid does essentially the same thing and he's viewed as a war criminal? It's so true that history is written by the victors. We are now the bad guys. The fact that we are wasting all this time and money trying to prove a scrawny fifteen year kid is the equivalent of Joseph Mengele or Adolf Eichmann seems to me not only absurd and insulting to the memories of those victimized by true war criminals, but also insane.


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Mike
Comment posted May 7, 2010 @ 11:41 pm

How was Khadr defending his country, seeing that he is either a Pakistani or Canadian?

Would you like to answer that one for us?


Mike
Comment posted May 7, 2010 @ 11:46 pm

And maybe you should read the Geneva Conventions again a bit harder.


Len Aldis
Comment posted May 8, 2010 @ 1:50 am

If a youngster of 15 years defending his country from invaders is caught, tortured and kept in prison for 8 years (and still there) is treated as a war criminal. What is G.W. Bush. Tony Blair and leaders of the countries that have and are invaders of Afghanistan?


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braulio_
Comment posted May 8, 2010 @ 3:41 pm

Well offer something. What qualification and support can you offer? “Read it harder.” What part should one “read harder”?


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Mike
Comment posted May 8, 2010 @ 9:19 pm

A. Prisoners of war, in the sense of the present Convention, are persons belonging to one of the following categories, who have fallen into the power of the enemy:

1. Members of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict as well as members of militias or volunteer corps forming part of such armed forces.

2. Members of other militias and members of other volunteer corps, including those of organized resistance movements, belonging to a Party to the conflict and operating in or outside their own territory, even if this territory is occupied, provided that such militias or volunteer corps, including such organized resistance movements, fulfill the following conditions:

(a) That of being commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates;
(b) That of having a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance;
(c) That of carrying arms openly;
(d) That of conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.

I probably should have said read the conventions harder for those who here who have actually read them.

I'd also recommend doing some research on how partisans were handled in World War II, especially how the US handled them.


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Hawaiianstyle
Comment posted May 17, 2010 @ 2:44 am

This sounds like an argument of whether we scared the boy into testifying by physical abuse or by mental abuse.

People should recall the outcry in the OLD United States when the Chinese Communists Brainwashed prisoners, and how we cried torture.

I am in awe of “intelligent” adults that can scare and intimidate a fifteen year old boy and live with themselves knowing he will never be released regardless of whether the Kangaroo Commission finds him guilty or simply sentences him to life in solitary confinement or both.


Hawaiianstyle
Comment posted May 17, 2010 @ 3:00 am

CJ the difference is we by our own President's orders we can murder US citizens if “someone” says they are engaged in terrorism when abroad, whereas a foreign national would come under the Geneva conventions and have to be tried in a Military Commission, and again by our Attny General confined even if found innocent.

John Adams would be proud.


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Comment posted August 4, 2010 @ 6:53 am

Members of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict as well as members of militias or volunteer corps forming part of such armed forces.


IS
Comment posted August 30, 2010 @ 1:36 am

continue on this path to your own discredit. The Military needs to get it clear. By their own testimony this boy was scrambling to defend himself. Grenades from both sides were used. A grenade against multiple machine guns doesn't seem like excessive force – am I to understand correctly that he was already blinded prior to throwing the grenade?

OK so this is the irony: The army is trying to build a case of excessive force by a boy in the front lines. They are abusing the word murderer for this child. Was the army guilty of excessive for in Iraq? The latest, most update, massive arsenal against old WWII anti aircraft weaponry. US propaganda calls this shock and awe.

My point is the Army loses credibility with this trial. Internationally they sound incompetent and very unstructured. No child at the front line, shot in the back, blinded from a grenade, tortured for years, should ever be charge with excessive force during war time.

Lets find out who carried out the torture on this child and place them on trial since we are trying to sound so credible, so humane. I know he is no longer a child but he is on trial for his actions as a child. Lets not forget who his father was – what was the consiquence of rebelling? Death I suspect.


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