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Omar Khadr sits in court for the sentencing phase of his trial on Oct. 26. (Janet Hamlin/Janet Hamlin)
Omar Khadr sits in court for the sentencing phase of his trial on Oct. 26. (Janet Hamlin/Janet Hamlin)

Khadr a 'rock star' in Guantanamo, psychiatrist testifies Add to ...

In powerful, sweeping testimony, a forensic psychiatrist painted a grim portrait of Omar Khadr as a unrepentant, dangerous, Islamic extremist who has been "marinated in the radical jihadism" at Guantanamo.

"He has murdered an American soldier, that's the ultimate prize" in terms of status among the hardened Islamic jihadists in the Guantanamo prisons, Michael Welner said, testifying for the prosecution at the sentencing phase of the Canadian's war-crimes trial.

Mr. Khadr, 24, could be freed soon after he returns to Canada a year from now if, as many expect, his Canadian lawyers win his early release based on the nine years he will, by then, have spent in U.S. custody.

Mr. Khadr's deeds made him a "rock star" at the camp, said the psychiatrist, who studied the Khadr family by searching for videos on the Internet, questioned guards at the Guantanamo prisons and spent two days interviewing Mr. Khadr.

Dr. Welner told the war-crimes tribunal that he was hired to assess Mr. Khadr's "risk of future dangerousness as a terrorist and jihadist." The New York-based doctor is best known for his "depravity scale," devised to assess particularly horrendous and violent crimes.

"He is devout, angry and identifies with his family, which is radical and jihadist," Dr. Welner said. He described Mr. Khadr, as "full of rage … he's bitter more than just angry … and he thinks it is everyone's else's fault that he is here."

The prognosis for deradicalizing Mr. Khadr - who has a plea bargain deal that will allow him to return to Canada after one more year in Guantanamo - was poor. "He wants to go to Canada," which is no surprise, Dr. Welner said, because "there are no deradicalization programs in Canada."

In a sweeping and increasingly animated performance in the heavily guarded courtroom on this disused Cold War airfield in Cuba, the psychiatrist injected ugly vignettes that seemed at times to catch even prosecutors by surprises. "Khadr called an African-American guard a whore, a bitch and a slave."

The doctor also managed to introduce some seemingly inflammatory anecdotes to the panel, saying, for instance, that Mr. Khadr's mother Maha Elsamnah, was extolling suicide bombers and saying her sons were looking forward to the martyr reward of 72 virgins.

Despite that, Mr. Khadr was usually calm and composed and "well-behaved in a custodial environment," Dr. Welner added.

The sometimes surprising testimony - at one point the doctor said Mr. Khadr's story had made Cuba more famous than Fidel Castro - capped the first day of testimony in the sentencing phase.

Defence lawyers are expected to present their own mental-health experts and the cross-examination of Dr. Welner promises to be compelling.

Mr. Khadr, burly and bearded, sat solemnly in a dark suit as the prosecution's expert psychiatrist - who said he had devoted hundreds of hours to assessing Mr. Khadr - said the Canadian detainee's exalted status rested on his family connections, his track record of killing Americans and his recovery from grievous war wounds sustained in the air strikes that left him nearly dead and half-blind.

Earlier Tuesday, Mr. Khadr watched quietly as the panel heard the long stipulation of facts, in which he confirmed that he was an al-Qaeda member, wanted to kill Jews and Americans, and that the "happiest moment of his life" was when he built and planted roadside bombs aimed at killing Americans and other unbelievers then deployed in Afghanistan.

Military judge Colonel Patrick Parrish told the panel that Mr. Khadr has pleaded guilty to all five charges of murder, terrorism and spying and that their role was reduced to imposing sentence.

The panel wasn't told that Mr. Khadr's guilty plea was part of a deal that will allow him to seek repatriation to Canada after one more year in the Guantanamo prison complex, originally created by the Bush administration to keep suspected al-Qaeda detainees outside of the reach and protections of U.S. law.

"You have a grave responsibility requiring the exercise of wise discretion," Col. Parish told the panel.

In actuality, only if the panel sets a sentence shorter than the one agreed in the plea deal will their deliberations make any difference. Mr. Khadr will receive whichever sentence is shorter - the one set by the panel or the eight years reportedly included in the plea bargain.

Photographs of Mr. Khadr as a fresh-faced teenager clad in white and wiring detonators for roadside bombs were shown to the panel. The images were taken shortly before the July 2002 firefight in which Mr. Khadr was gravely wounded by U.S. airstrikes and shot twice. At the end of that fierce, four-hour firefight, Mr. Khadr, the sole survivor of the al-Qaeda cell inside the Afghan compound, threw a Russian-made grenade that killed U.S. Sergeant Christopher Speer. That killing was a murder because, Mr. Khadr has conceded he was an "alien, unprivileged, enemy, belligerent" and as such not allowed to fight back.

Follow on Twitter: @PaulKoring

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