By OMAR EL AKKAD | In subjecting Omar Khadr to the so-called “frequent flier program” – a sleep deprivation technique that has since been prohibited – the U.S. military may have exceeded even its own guidelines on the controversial practice.
Department of Foreign Affairs documents made public this week show that the U.S. military intentionally deprived Mr. Khadr of sleep in order to “make him more amenable and willing to talk” prior to a visit by Canadian officials to Cuba in 2004.
A May, 2008, U.S. Department of Justice audit found that the frequent flier program was employed throughout Guantanamo, designed to disorient detainees and make them more co-operative.
According to an FBI agent stationed at the naval base between December of 2003 and September of 2004, “under the program detainees were moved every four hours, but that the program could only be continued for a week or two.”
According to the Foreign Affairs document, however, Mr. Khadr was moved every three hours for 21 days.
The origin of such practices at Guantanamo dates back to an April 16, 2003, memo by then-secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld.
The memo explicitly authorized “sleep adjustment,” which it defined as “[adjusting] the sleeping times of the detainee … e.g. reversing sleep cycles from night to day.”
A subsequent military review found that the distinction between “sleep adjustment” and the prohibited sleep deprivation was “blurry.”
Mr. Khadr’s inclusion in the frequent flier program will likely stand as one of the most significant revelations in the detained Canadian’s six-year saga.
Given that the Canadian Federal Court has found the practice to be in violation of international law, the revelation that Mr. Khadr was subjected to the program directly contradicts repeated assurances from Ottawa that the Canadian was treated humanely.
However, Canada was not the only nation to have the U.S. military soften up detainees before interrogation sessions.
According to an FBI agent stationed at Guantanamo, a group of Chinese Muslim prisoners were subjected to sleep deprivation while being questioned at the naval base by Chinese officials.
While the frequent flier program may now be prohibited, its details are spilling out in a Guantanamo Bay courtroom.
Last month, Afghan detainee Mohammed Jawad testified about his own experiences with the program.
The prisoner, who is charged with attempted murder, was made to change prison camp cells 112 times over the course of two weeks in May, shortly after Mr. Khadr’s own experiences with the program.
Mr. Jawad’s U.S. Air Force lawyer, Major David Frakt, filed a motion calling the treatment torture and asking for charges against his client to be dismissed.
Records show the U.S. military also had a technique similar to the frequent flier program, dubbed “Operation Sandman,” that was used on some Saudi detainees the military believed were exerting too much influence on other prisoners.
An FBI agent who served as “On-Scene Commander” at Guantanamo in 2003 described the program as involving frequent cell relocations and sleep interruption “designed to keep some of the Saudi detainees mentally off balance, to isolate them either linguistically or culturally, and to induce them to co-operate.”