Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Psychiatric Demonization of Omar Khadr

Originally posted at FDL/The Seminal

As the intense negotiations over a possible plea bargain for former child "soldier" Omar Khadr come to a head, "internationally acclaimed" forensic psychiatrist Dr. Michael Welner has given an exclusive interview to Steven Edwards of the Canadian National Post. Khadr, captured at age 15, has been imprisoned for eight years in U.S. custody, and tortured at both Bagram and Guantanamo, accused of killing a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan in a firefight in July 2002. Dr. Welner has consulted for the FBI, and is a frequent guest on network television. He is a vigorous self-promoter and has been a forensic examiner on a number of high-profile criminal cases.

From Edwards story:
There is no evidence that Omar Khadr has ever independently sought to promote peace with the West and renounce Muslim Jihad, the internationally acclaimed forensic psychiatrist who pioneered efforts to quantify evil reveals ahead testifying about his examination of the Canadian-born terror suspect....

“When one leaps to the conclusion about Omar Khadr’s future because he is friendly, one might recall that Osama bin Laden has always been described as gentle, likeable and charming,” New York-based Welner told Postmedia News.

“There is no record of (Khadr’s) publicly repudiating al Qaida, as civilized Muslims should, not even a letter composed for him by Dennis Edney,” he added in a reference to one of Khadr’s two Canadian lawyers. There is “no call... to radical Islamists to mature beyond their elemental intolerance.”
By the use of terms such as "elemental intolerance", Dr. Welner exposes his bias and political animus towards Mr. Khadr. It carries the same whiff of fanaticism as the statements of former Chief of Neuropsychiatry at Guantanamo Bay, Dr. William Anderson, who wrote that Islamic "hard-core zealots" had "brains that are structurally and functionally different from us," and that 100,000 "zealots" within the Muslim body politic would have to be eliminated, the way "malignant [cancer] cells" are removed from a healthy body.

One wonders what responsibility the young Mr. Khadr had to reach out to "radical Islamists." The entire accusation is preposterous on its face. The attempt to link Mr. Khadr to Osama bin Laden is even worse. It is character assassination, and the evident bias shown by Dr. Welner should be more than enough reason to have his entire testimony and evaluation thrown out of court.

But then this isn't any old court. It's the kangaroo proceedings that are the Obama revamped Military Commissions, a judicial setting that allows no courtroom observers, that banned reporters for stating the name of a witness that was otherwise a matter of public record, that allows the judge to admit hearsay evidence from third parties who were coerced, as long as the judge finds it doesn't cross over into "cruel, inhuman, or degrading" treatment as defined in the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005.

As Daphne Eviatar pointed out last year:
While that sounds good, remember that the Detainee Treatment Act was interpreted by the Bush administration’s Justice Department to allow such “enhanced interrogation techniques” as sleep deprivation, food deprivation, shackling, forced standing in stress positions, and a variety of “corrective techniques” that include physical slaps and grabs – either alone or in combination. The new “protections” in the MCA amendments are therefore not all that reassuring.
Omar Khadr was to be the first sample of "justice" in the new Obama-blessed military commissions. We got a sample of what kind of justice that would be when last August, the MC judge, Army Col. Patrick Parrish, announced there was "no credible evidence" of torture upon Mr. Khadr. And yet, even in the testimony in the case thus far, early interrogations of the then-15 year old prisoner were proven to contain theats of violent rape. Moreover, the U.S. has been contemptuous of international protocols that juveniles under 18 years of age require "special attention", and that "the physical and psychosocial rehabilitation and social reintegration of children who are victims of armed conflict" of such child prisoners is of essential importance.

Andy Worthington described the torture of Omar Khadr in an article last May (or read Mr. Khadr's own affadavit describing his treatment - PDF):
Khadr stated that he was short-shackled in painful positions and left for up to ten hours in a freezing cold cell, threatened with rape and with being transferred to another country where he could be raped, and, on one particular occasion, when he had been left short-shackled in a painful position until he urinated on himself:
Military police poured pine oil on the floor and on me, and then, with me lying on my stomach and my hands and feet cuffed together behind me, the military police dragged me back and forth through the mixture of urine and pine oil on the floor. Later, I was put back in my cell, without being allowed a shower or a change of clothes. I was not given a change of clothes for two days. They did this to me again a few weeks later.
Ethical Transgressions?

The rest of the Welner interview continues the doctor's rant. "Civilized Muslims" have repudiated Al Qaeda, implying that without a strong statement from Mr. Khadr doing the same, he is not "civilized." According to Edwards, Dr. Welner states in the interview that "Khadr is known to have expressed peace-loving intentions only to “those advancing [h]is public image...” Even more, Dr. Welner describes Mr. Khadr as "socially agile, charming and more sophisticated," only to remind us -- "lest we forget" -- that Omar's father looked "good" enough to gather money for an orphanage, "'yet he was raising money for al Qaida, and (was) a high-ranking member' of the terror group."

In reference to Dr. Welner's last example, what should people think who believed once that the politicians who told them they were activating the defense of the United States and promoting the safety of their loved ones from a WMD-armed Iraq, only to find out their tax money was used to invade a country that had no WMD, that the entire story was gamed by the top leaders of the United States to destroy the infrastructure of another nation, kill 100,000s of people, and turn millions more into homeless refugees? These crimes make Omar Khadr's father look like a mere amateur.

It is difficult to discern the motives behind Dr. Welner's interview, but the fact there is pending a possible sentencing hearing for Mr. Khadr, or that the issue of Canadian repatriation of the former child soldier is currently a matter of some controversy in Canada (Prime Minister Stephen Harper is adamantly against it), calls Dr. Welner's actions into some question.

One wonders if Dr. Welner has ever read the Specialty Guidelines for Forensic Psychology (PDF):
Ordinarily, forensic psychologists avoid making detailed public (out-of-court) statements about particular legal proceedings in which they have been involved. When there is a strong justification to do so, such public statements are designed to assure accurate representation of their role or their evidence, not to advocate the positions of parties in the legal proceeding. Forensic psychologists address particular legal proceedings in publications or communications only to the extent that the information relied upon is part of a public record, or consent for that use has been properly obtained from the party holding any privilege.
Perhaps Dr. Welner, who is a forensic psychiatrist and not a forensic psychologist, does not feel himself bound by the ethics of his sister profession. Even so, the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law's Ethical Guidelines for the Practice of Forensic Psychiatry state that as a matter of confidentiality in a forensic, legal setting, "A forensic evaluation requires notice to the evaluee and to collateral sources of reasonably anticipated limitations on confidentiality. Information or reports derived from a forensic evaluation are subject to the rules of confidentiality that apply to the particular evaluation, and any disclosure should be restricted accordingly." Moreover, the process of gaining consent for an evaluation should include "notice... to the evaluee of the nature and purpose of the evaluation and the limits of its confidentiality."

Did Dr. Welner tell Omar Khadr that he planned to give a public interview to the press on certain aspects of his evaluation of him, an interview moreover on the eve of an important legal hearing for him?

Edward's interview liberally cites Dr. Welner's credentials, but never mentions that he has worked closely with the FBI, or that his highly-touted "Depravity Scale" project is the subject of much academic controversy.

It is hard to believe the extent to which the advocates of the demonization of Omar Khadr will go. The U.S. government, and their ally in the Canadian Prime Minister's office, evidently will go to no end to press their vendetta against the Khadr family. This is the morality of the mob, the morality of true moral depravity. Dr. Welner, look in the mirror.

Or better yet, review this videotape of an interrogation of Omar Khadr in 2004. Did the young man, then age 16, use the opportunity to "call... to radical Islamists to mature beyond their elemental intolerance"? You tell me.

H/T to skdadl for tipping me to the Welner interview


Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for your work and for shining a light on the bias of Dr. Welner - I've been concerned at his involvement as expert witness in this MC for some time.

You may have already seen this article about the psychiatric expert for Khadr's defense...

"Stephen Xenakis: Omar Khadr's unlikely defender"
By Michelle Shephard

Thanks again,

Helen Gerhardt

Valtin said...

Thanks, Helen.

I hadn't seen the article on Xenakis and Omar Khadr. I'll take a look at the article on Dr. and retired Brig. Gen. Xenakis. He's been working with Physicians for Human Rights for some time now to expose the role of doctors and other medical professionals in the torture and abuse at Guantanamo and elsewhere.

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