Was anyone really surprised that 15-year-old Omar Khadr was lied to and threatened with what amounts to sadistic torture by U.S. interrogators? Our courts condone police lying. Police departments tolerate it. Officers do it all the time, and then lie about doing it. Only defendants are held accountable for lying.
What surprises about the Khadr prosecution is that the interrogators admit lying. Therein lies the difference, I suspect, between the civilian and military justice system: In the military, officers who lie under oath can be punished severely. Few would dream of punishing a lying cop.
Khadr was captured by U.S. troops in Afghanistan and is accused of throwing a hand grenade at a U.S. solider, killing Army sergeant Christopher Speer. That was eight years ago. Khadr, now 23, is set to face trial in the first case to be tried before the Guantanamo Tribunal.
While the boy solider was being interrogated years ago by a burly he-man of a intelligence operative, he was told that another young man who had not been forthcoming had been sent to an American prison where he died after a gang rape. Presumably, this implied threat loosened the lips of Khadr. His words, no doubt, will now be used in the effort to condemn him.
My clients often tell me of threats being made to them by civilian police officers. When officers are confronted on the witness stand with these allegations, they routinely deny them, often times feigning great insult that anyone would accuse them of such a thing. The police are no doubt afraid that civilian jurors would disapprove of such thuggery. The reason police have a policy against tape-recording interrogations is so that they can lie about what goes on behind closed doors.
In the Khadr case, the trial judge was not offended at all by thuggery. Threatening a boy with gang rape was not so coercive as to render his confession involuntary, no, not at all.
What astonishes about the Khadr prosecution is that the interrogator admitted behaving like a two-bit punk. I suspect that was because in some fundamental respects the military justice system is superior to its civilian counterpart: Military officers found to have lied to superiors can be court-martialed, dishonorably discharged or even imprisoned. There is an honor code in the military that imposes a requirement to be truthful. Our civilian police departments too often give only lip service to the truth. That's why scholars write about the phenomenon known as the blue wall of silence. Ask Frank Serpico about what happens when you violate that code.
The Obama administration is rightly concerned about international reaction to this the first of the Guantanamo trials. Just why we are prosecuting the boy in a military tribunal is not at all clear to me. If the child cloaked himself in the garb of a soldier, and we are truly at war with terror, then why a trial at all? Don't combatants aim to kill one another? A war against terror is a war against a shadowy non-state entity peopled by non-conventional soldiers. Just what is it that we are trying to prove with this trial?
If the claim is that the boy is a civilian then why try him in a military court? We look like a cowardly giant placing a kid on trial in a kangaroo court while simultaneously thumbing our nose at the International Criminal Court. If this boy attacked us because we have declared war on something he cares to defend, then how does a military tribunal gain jurisdiction over this civilian? Shouldn't this really be a matter of international law? Trying Khadr in a military tribunal looks a lot like Mafia chieftans convening to pass judgment on the lone Irishman in their neighborhood.
Someone enlighten me about why this improvident prosecution is taking place. I just don't get it.