Toronto — Globe and Mail Update
Last updated on Monday, Oct. 05, 2009 08:08PM EDT
It’s shaping up to be a bad day for Abdullah Khadr.
The scion of Canada’s most infamous family took the witness stand in his own defence against a U.S. extradition bid today, only to find Crown lawyers taking the opportunity to give Canada’s so-called “al-Qaeda family” the trial it never got.
Unanswered questions about just about everything the Khadrs ever allegedly did were put to the defendant. Prosecutors asked many questions of Mr. Khadr about his late father – hailed as a “martyr” by al-Qaeda figures after his violent death in 2003 – and his activities in Afghanistan.
This included Ahmed Said Khadr’s alleged links to a deadly 1995 bombing in Pakistan; his 1997 attempt to broker a peace deal between an Afghan warlord and the Taliban; and allegations he siphoned off charity money from Canada to fund jihadist causes in Afghanistan.
The father, a naturalized Canadian originally from Egypt, enrolled his sons in Afghan training camps in the 1990s. Also at issue for prosecutors were Abdullah Khadr’s time at the Khalden training camp in Afghanistan and his reaction to al-Qaeda’s 1998 bombings of U.S. Embassies in Africa that killed 220 people, events that transpired when he was still a teenager.
Now 28, Mr. Khadr’s responses were often unsatisfying, yet the court is unsure whether the Crown’s questions are germane to the legal questions at hand.
“This doesn’t have anything to do, it seems to me, with his credibility,” said Judge Christopher Speyer.
But “there is a pattern of intentional misleading, in my submission, that goes on and on and on,” countered Crown lawyer Howard Piafsky.
He argued that Mr. Khadr provided the court with “brazen” falsehoods in an affidavit that painted his father as a humble charity worker, and himself as a victim of circumstance.
Mr. Khadr and his defence team are trying to undermine the U.S. extradition bid that alleges he sold weaponry to al-Qaeda in 2003. While Mr. Khadr made admissions to this end to federal agents, he says they don’t count because everything flowed from a CIA conspiracy to have him interrogated overseas.
Court documents do show the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency paid Islamabad $500,000 (U.S.) to arrest Mr. Khadr in 2004, who was kept for a year in a Pakistani intelligence safe house where he was interrogated by a Canadian and U.S agents.
“After what happened to me in Pakistan – torture – I have troubles sleeping,” said Mr. Khadr, bearded and bespectacled, as he took the witness stand.
“They shackled and chained me for almost two months,” he said.
The mistreatment softened him up prior to his making a series of damning admissions to Western agents who interviewed him in Pakistan, and upon his return to Canada four years ago.
Mr. Khadr was free for only a few months before he was arrested on a U.S. Warrant.
Prosecutors are trying to undermine the alleged torture taint by painting Mr. Khadr as a habitual liar.
As Mr. Khadr tried to put the best gloss on his family’s activities in Afghanistan and Pakistan, he made several seemingly implausible statements.
He said his father knew al-Qaeda’s top three leaders, but mostly back when they were just charity workers.
Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and the late Abu Hafs al-Masri “all used to run NGOs in the Afghan war [against the Soviets in the 1980s] ,” Mr. Khadr said. “They. were not enemies of America then.”
Shown an al-Qaeda propaganda video eulogizing his father – killed in a 2003 battle against Pakistani soldiers – Mr. Khadr claimed not to recognize footage of what prosecutors said was his dad, shown sitting in a grassy field with militants assembling what looked to be improvised explosive devices.
“My father chose to be neutral,” insisted Mr. Khadr, while acknowledging he often worked as his dad’s driver.
He insisted his father didn’t have any special access to Osama bin Laden. Since only a couple of thousand Arabs lived in Afghanistan during the 1990s, he said, all of the Arabs were intimately interconnected.
Mr. Khadr corrected prosecutors when they suggested the Khadrs lived in the bin Laden family’s “Star of Jihad” complex in Afghanistan – the Khadrs actually lived in the compound next door, he testified.
Prompted by prosecutors, he said he didn’t know anything about why his father and his sister’s one-time fiance allegedly rented a car used to bomb the Egyptian embassy in Pakistan in 1995, an attack that killed 16 people.
The former fiance is jailed in Egypt now, but people shouldn’t read anything into that, Mr. Khadr said. “Egypt arrests anyone who has ever been to Afghanistan,” he testified.
“… It’s a crime punishable by death.”
Asked about an assertion from his younger brother that the Khadr father urged him to become a suicide bomber, Abdullah Khadr reacted angrily.
“Abdelrahman [Khadr] said a lot of things. Abdelrahman is part of the reason I’m in jail,” he said. “Ninety-nine per cent of what he said is lies.”
When Abdullah and Abdelrahman Khadr were young teenagers their father sent them both to the Khalden training camp in Afghanistan.
The older brother testified he learned how to fire guns there, in addition to playing volleyball and hiking. But prosecutors also drew out admissions he learned how to fire grenade launchers and make explosives out of C4 materiel.
“It’s part of the culture, the Muslim culture in Pakistan and Afghanistan,” Mr Khadr testified.
He added that “in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a grenade launcher is available in every house” and that “99 per cent of people are walking around with Kalashnikovs.”
“Its part of the haddith to be able to protect yourself,” said Mr Khadr, referring to contemporaneous Islamic legends from the time of the Prophet Mohammed.
The two Khadr brothers also lived together in a Kabul guesthouse for militants in the late 1990s, and Abdelrahman Khadr – the sibling who became an informer for the CIA – years ago went public with a story about how everyone there but him celebrated when al-Qaeda bombed the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.
Prosecutors showed Abdullah Khadr footage of the aftermath of the deadly blasts and asked him if he recalled the celebrations.
“I didn’t know about it,” he testified.
He added that “I was sick, that’s why I was in the guesthouse” and that he had had no idea what the people outside were celebrating on that day.
Mr. Khadr he was unaware at that time that Osama bin Laden had declared a fatwa, one urging Arab militants in Afghanistan to kill Americans and attack U.S. targets.