Rewriting History: How the Omar Khadr GITMO Clemency Appeal Failed

by Jerry Gordon (June 2011)

In the final week of May, 2011 Canadian Afghan GITMO detainee, Omar Khadr, and his military legal defense team were blanked out in two separate decisions by the highest US military legal tribunal, the Convening Authority, and, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). On May 24th, the majority of Justices of SCOTUS ruled not to review the Khadr matter filed almost a year earlier. May 26th, the Military Legal Convening Authority denied a Clemency Appeal filing made in late March in a terse dismissal. 

Tribunal rejects Khadr bid for clemency.”

Under it, Khadr pleaded guilty last October to five war crimes, among them the murder of a U.S. serviceman during a 2002 firefight in Afghanistan. He received a sentence of eight years, with one more to be served in Guantanamo, and seven in a Canadian prison.

This was the second legal setback Khadr received.

A majority of Supreme Court justices denied the review petition.

“Omar Khadr’s Hail Mary (Allah) Pass at GITMO Tribunal”. Khadr’s defense counsels, Lt. Col. Jon Jackson and Major Mitchell Schwartz concocted a 40 page appeal aimed at destroying the credibility of prosecution key witness Dr. Michael Welner. Welner is a renowned forensic psychiatrist, chairman of The Forensic Panel and NYU Associate Professor. The clemency appeal also targeted Col. Patrick Parrish, tribunal judge in the proceeding with 25 years of experience. Sageman attacked research work by Nicolai Sennels on young criminals in a Copenhagen correctional facility for its principal finding of their rejection of Western values. See Sennels’ article in the May 2010, NER, “Muslims and Westerners: The Psychological Differences.”

Sageman was not the first expert witness the defense exploited to try to attack Welner where their October cross examination failed.

Dr. Stephen N. Xenakis, who spent 28 years in military service before leaving command.

Xenakis has been a frequent critic of torture in interrogations and Guantanamo Bay in general as a member of Physicians for Human Rights, has lectured on such topics in Israel and the Palestinian territories and has written frequently on such topics for the New York Times and the Washington Post.

“Radical Jihadism is Not a Mental Disorder.”

Beyond being simply unscientific, however, the testimony had another troubling aspect. Welner relied, in part, on the research of a particularly egregious source: Danish educational psychologist Nicolai Sennels.

The prosecutors depicted Khadr as a probably violent and radical charismatic leader.

[. . .]

The validity of risk assessment also draws from statistical base rates. The figures of released Guantanamo detainees who return to active battle have climbed sharply from just 6 percent in 2008 to 25 percent, according to [a recent report] from the director of national intelligence. My testimony demonstrated several reasons why U.S. government recidivism figures are a significant underestimation. This testimony was not contested on cross-examination or rebutted.

No part of my assessment characterized radical Jihadism as a mental disorder. I testified specifically that Jihadism is a phenomenon of religious inspiration, not mental illness.

Xenakis in an article, “First, Do No Harm,” where he outlined his views on the detention system at Guantanamo and gave his assessment that Khadr had been tortured. Xenakis was “attending a two-day conference in Ramallah and Jerusalem about the responsibilities and immunity of people who employ torture tactics. The conference was sponsored by Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, Physicians for Human Rights, and the Palestinian Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights.” There is no word as to whether he had any comments on Hamas’ handling of Fatah prisoners or IDF Sgt. Gilad Shalit, allegedly still alive as a captive after more than five years, for that matter.

Xenakis noted:

Guantanamo’s Child: The Untold Story of Omar Khadr.

Enter Tom Joscelyn exposing Marc Sageman

wrote in Foreign Affairs in 2008, Sageman’s “impressive resumé cannot overcome his fundamental misreading of the al Qaeda threat.”

go-to guy” on counterterrorism issues, but that is hardly the case. And since Sageman has inserted himself into the Khadr proceedings, a brief review of his work will provide some context for his self-aggrandizing claims. 

plays a large role.

[. . .]

Note the 2002 findings from the docket of a malpractice claim handed down against him by the jury in the in Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas trial.



Abdullah Azzam in Afghanistan that morphed into Al Qaeda under the late Osama Bin Laden and al Zawahiri, through the fundamentalist wing of the Pakistan Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) group. The more secular military wing was facilitating US and British covert and material support for the Mujahideen of the Northern Alliance, who were pro-western.

The Vindication of Sennels

Interview with Hedegaard, in the May edition of the NER). Sageman’s implications were that Sennels' research work on therapeutic programs for adolescent Muslim offenders did not have the professional rigor and standing that could justify any findings. 

Beyond the scientific community being supportive and far from marginalizing, the above essay offers significant points pertinent to the disingenuous controversies asserted by the defense and Dr. Sageman, including the following:

That a prominent Danish Muslim would welcome the book for its insightfulness again demonstrates charges of prejudice as simplistic and ignorant of Danish society today.

interview with him the auspices that the Free Speech Library provided for the Sennels’ book.

Nicolai Sennels' book in Denmark, Among Criminal Muslims: A Psychologist's Experiences from the Copenhagen Municipality. His work is based on the failure of therapeutic programs involving young Muslim offenders in Copenhagen. Do you agree with his conclusions based on his clinical research that Muslims reject Western values and are not assimiliable?

Hedegaard: I edited his book for publication. I am not a psychologist and therefore not qualified to offer a scientific opinion. But as far as I can tell, Sennels’ method is solid as are his conclusions. Otherwise The Free Speech Library would not have lent its good name to this publication. What Sennels documents is very much in line with what I would expect on the basis of my own extensive research on Islam and Islamic history.

Welner in rebuttal disputed the alleged bias of the Free Speech Library.

www.Bibliotek.Trykkefrihed.dk. The Free Press Society had nothing to do with the publication of Dr. Sennels’ book. The Free Speech Library is a privately owned, for-profit publisher that receives no money from The Free Press Society.

Dr. Sageman try to mislead the Convening Authority to believe a falsehood that The Free Speech Library is an anti-Islam imprint. That is incorrect. The Free Speech Library has published 16 books to date since its founding in 2008.

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Secondly, he had a structured treatment program which was entirely remediative in its focus.

Another valuable feature of it is that Sennels was actually comparing a substantial Muslim population with a non-Muslim population. . . I was impressed at the size of his sample.

Is it any wonder that his representations on this case are so inaccurate and misleading?

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