Michelle continues her analysis of the Khadr commission:
After the series of agents testified, the government called their star witness, Dr. Michael Welner, a forensic psychiatrist who is best known for his “Depravity Scale” regarding criminals, to speak about his opinion of Khadr’s risk assessment, future dangerousness, reintegration into civil society, and deradicalization needs/prospects. Welner founded the peer review organization The Forensic Panel, which includes Dr. Nancy Slicner, a retired USAF psychologist who worked with Air Force investigators for years, as a member. The testimony began mid-afternoon on Tuesday and lasted until mid-afternoon Wednesday. As he painstakingly listed his long string of qualifications as a forensic psychologist, I longed for Maj S to jump up and state that the defense would stipulate to Welner’s expert status.

Welner testified that he spent 500 to 600 hours working on this case, but we didn’t learn until the cross-examination that he only concentrated on the “future dangerousness” assessment towards the end of this preparation. Welner relied on 150 items—documents, web research, videos, and 21 interviews (including a 2-day interview with Khadr) in establishing his conclusion that Khadr was “highly dangerous.” The primary bases for this conclusion were that Khadr had killed, he had been part of al Qaeda, the war remains ongoing, and it isn’t ending soon. “Past history informs the future.” In support of this premise, Welner described the Khadr family’s well-known terrorist ties, implying that Khadr would likely continue on the family path after his release. Khadr’s declination to speak of the impact of his father’s death was another red flag for the doctor. I found it odd that Welner felt the need to emphasize repeatedly alleged crimes for which family members hadn’t been convicted and ones totally unrelated to terrorism. When you have a family with an al Qaeda connection, is it really necessary to list every black mark?

It soon became evident that, in addition to his psychiatric expertise, Welner fancied himself an expert on radical Islam, defining such adherents as not wanting to live in a country that doesn’t follow Sharia law. On cross-examination, the defense elicited that this was the first case in which Welner had testified on such matters. It didn’t help that the primary resource Welner used was a Danish study of 250 youthful Muslim inmates. Rather than relying on the study itself (as it was written in Danish), Welner’s reliance was based on a phone conversation with the author, purportedly a 33-year-old doctor whose credentials Welner did not verify. On cross-examination, Maj S brought out a host of disturbing writings attributed to the Danish author which revealed a general disdain, to say the least, of Muslims. While Welner professed to have read “everything he could get his hands on” in his preparation, he managed not to have seen any of these biased documents until the defense brought them to his attention during cross-examination. After reviewing the additional documents, Welner’s opinion of the Danish author’s study remained unchanged.

Another significant factor in Welner’s assessment were the growing percentage of former GTMO detainees who have reverted to terrorism, according to him. Given the skepticism with which such numbers are viewed, this seemed like a reliance fraught with peril in attempting to predict how Khadr will react outside of GTMO.

The prosecution expert took every opportunity to weave in nearly every high-profile violent Muslim who has committed crimes in the past decade as he spoke, most of which hardly seemed relevant to the matter at hand. The term “violent jihadist” seemed synonymous with “Muslim” until Welner clarified this late in his testimony today. As factors contributing to his beliefs about Khadr’s rehabilitation potential, Welner listed Khadr’s age, perceived lack of remorse, depth of his religious devotion, anger, and the length of time he’d been confined at GTMO with “radical jihadists” for 8 years, prompting those of us in the gallery who are familiar with international law on child soldiers to whisper among ourselves that that is precisely why minors should not be housed with adult prisoners.

Welner’s recounted Khadr’s status as a “rock star” and “al Qaeda royalty” who “attracted more attention than Fidel.” This heightened status was sdue to his language proficiency, his charm, his comfort with various groups of individuals, his memorization of the Koran, his killing a US soldier, and the fact that he has experience with the Western world (but isn’t very Westernized, according to Welner) as contributing to his capacity to lead others. This dove-tailed with Welner’s description of Khadr as the family favorite in a “leaderless” family now that the father is dead. Another point that highlighted the nature of this witness’ testimony came cross-examination, following up on Welner’s testimony that Khadr read Harry Potter books as a means of escape, rather than doing schoolwork, intimating that Khadr isn’t interested in bettering himself through education (although Khadr wants to be a doctor) unless it’s related to doing such suspicious things as memorizing the Koran. On cross-examination, we learned that Khadr also read books by Danielle Steele, Nelson Mandela, and President Obama, items Welner neglected to list on direct.

Welner emphasized that Khadr was manipulative and told lies, explaining that Khadr’s compliant behavior at GTMO could not be seen as a sign of his lack of dangerousness because the “radical jihadists” (which he later claimed included 100% of the GTMO detainees) excel at awaiting the right opportunity to lash out, and Khadr has been “marinating in radicalism.” In this context, Khadr’s good impulse control in avoiding confrontations with guards and detainees was spun as a negative factor. Even Khadr’s saying that others could be Christians, while he is Muslim, without causing problems was viewed as suspect.

Not surprisingly, the subject of deradicalization was a hot topic with this witness. For the same reasons he described Khadr as “highly dangerous,” he lamented the lack of good moderate Muslim role models for Khadr when he is released from detention, as there are no deradicalization programs in Canada. Welner described Khadr as a leader among the prisoners in his unit and as a spiritual leader for them; in fact, Khadr related to Welner that he looks to himself, rather than the older prisoners, for spiritual help. Still, Welner cited “uneven” success rates for various deradicalization programs around the world, specifying that the former GTMO detainees “infect” such programs. Despite all this emphasis on radicals, Welner could not recall whether Khadr ever said he wanted to live under Sharia law—pretty astounding lapse, considering the subject.

Discounting the impact of higher education prospects and finding no mental defect in Khadr, Welner called radical jihadism (a favorite phrase of his) a passion, not a disease or mental illness capable of medical treatment. Because Khadr did not accede to government-provided mental health services, this, too, was a strike against him.

As the testimony wore on, it became apparent that the defense was allowing Welner quite a bit of leeway in replying to simple questions with lengthy narratives. This brought back memories of my years doing trial work in which the best strategy with witnesses who drone on is to just let them alienate the court members without making any objections. Particularly with military panels, and in this case, ones who don’t get to go home until the case ends, time wasted on superfluous testimony is not usually welcomed by commanders who need to launch ships, get jets into the air, and the like.

On cross-examination, Welner continued his windy replies. A smile escaped from me when Maj S cut the doctor off after one answer by replying “Awesome, so….” as he asked the next question. I wish I’d seen more of that. While there were certainly some hiccups along the way, the lack of reliable sources and data on many of the issues about which Welner testified became apparent during cross-examination. Redirect was unremarkable, and, mercifully, short. Finally, the court members had several questions to ask, and then Welner was allowed to leave the witness stand.

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