GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba – Jurors considering a sentence for a former teenage al-Qaida militant got a stark message Tuesday from a government-hired psychiatric expert: The last Westerner at Guantanamo is radical, angry and dangerous.
Omar Khadr was an extremist when he was taken to Guantanamo, where he was "marinated in radical jihadism" over eight years in custody and became a leader among prisoners, said Dr. Michael Welner, a forensic psychiatrist who analyzed the 24-year-old Canadian on behalf of military prosecutors.
"He's highly dangerous," Welner told jurors. "He is full of rage."
Khadr, who was 15 when captured by the U.S. after a fierce firefight in Afghanistan in 2002, pleaded guilty Monday to five war crimes charges as part of a plea deal that spared him from a possible life sentence and calls for sending him back to his homeland after one more year in Guantanamo. The jury cannot impose a sentence greater than the amount set by the agreement, reportedly eight years, but they can issue one that is more lenient.
Welner, who has testified as an expert witness in many high-profile cases in recent years, said he spent more than seven hours interviewing Khadr over the summer, reviewed his records from the U.S. detention center in Cuba and studied interviews with family members back in Canada who have embraced extremist positions.
His conclusion: Khadr has shown no interest in changing his radical views on Islam and has no real remorse for throwing a grenade that killed an American soldier and partially blinded another during a four-hour firefight in Afghanistan in 2002. The only thing the prisoner seems to regret, Welner said, is his imprisonment and he seems unlikely to change.
"He is very angry about being in custody," he told the jury of seven military officers.
The psychiatrist praised Khadr's intelligence, noting that he had mastered several languages and can be "quite charming" under certain circumstances. But faulted the prisoner for not doing more to improve his limited education while at Guantanamo by reading more than "Harry Potter" books.
Khadr was often called on to lead prayer groups and "is the rock star at Gitmo" because of his notoriety, he said.
The testimony was part of a prosecution attempt to show that Khadr, despite his guilty plea, has not remorse for his past. Earlier testimony featured U.S. agents who interrogated him at Guantanamo and said he was nonchalant about being part of an al-Qaida explosive cell and killing an American soldier.
Nathan Whitling, an attorney for Khadr, said they disagree with the prosecution's assessment and will counter Welner with their own expert testimony.
Khadr pleaded guilty to charges that included murder for killing an American special forces medic with a grenade during a four-hour firefight at an al-Qaida compound in southeastern Afghanistan.
The widow of the soldier, U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer, a special forces medic from Albuquerque, New Mexico, is expected to testify at the sentencing hearing this week. An Army sergeant who was partially blinded by the grenade is also scheduled to testify.
The Khadr case had long outraged critics of Guantanamo who said Khadr should not be prosecuted because he was just 15 at the time of the gunbattle and was subjected to harsh treatment in custody. Defenders said he was a child soldier pushed into militancy by his father, who was killed in Pakistan after his son's capture, and that killing a soldier during a firefight does not amount to a war crime.
Prosecutors countered that he was part of a guerrilla insurgency, not a legitimate soldier, and thus his actions amounted to war crimes.