Rewriting History: How the Omar Khadr GITMO Clemency Appeal Failed

by Jerry Gordon (June 2011)


Oh, what a tangled web we weave when we first practice to deceive -Sir Walter Scott, in his poem "Marmion" (1808)

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. 

The Montreal Gazette reported on these two developments: “Tribunal rejects Khadr bid for clemency.”

The U.S. military tribunal that oversaw Omar Khadr's war crimes case has refused his bid for clemency, issuing a statement May 26th that simply confirms the eight-year sentence he received in a plea deal.

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.

The Toronto native had sought to have the sentence reduced, arguing in part that the prosecution had been guilty of "misconduct" regarding the presentation of a key prosecution witness at the October sentencing hearing.

According to a prosecution memorandum obtained by Postmedia News, military prosecutors accused Khadr's defense of attempting to "rewrite history" in their bid for clemency.

The eight-page document vigorously rebuts defense claims that prosecutors "strong-armed" them into dropping a bid to challenge the credibility of forensic psychiatrist Dr. Michael Welner.

This was the second legal setback Khadr received.

On May 24th, the U.S. Supreme Court finally ruled on whether to hear a year-old bid by Khadr to have a part of his case reviewed.

A majority of Supreme Court justices denied the review petition.

The Khadr ruling was a moot point because the 26-year-old's forfeiture of his claims against the U.S. government meant that the justices could not have reviewed any parts of his case anyway.

The Convening Authority thus slammed the door on a shameless attempt by the Khadr legal defense team forensic psychiatric witness and self-styled counterterrorism expert Dr. Marc Sageman to insinuate himself into the case; first, by defaming the prosecution’s chief witness, Dr. Michael Welner, and then, the research work on young Muslim offenders by Danish psychologist Nicolai Sennels. In the end, the Convening Authority directed parties not to busy themselves with responding to or reinforcing Sageman’s letter.

The cabal at work in the defense’s sly effort to rewrite Khadr’s guilty plea was revealed in an April New English Review article, “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.”

As discussed in our April NER investigative report on the Khadr clemency motion, the Khadr defense team attempted to leverage the credentials of Sageman, an ex-CIA analyst, [1] whose theories about leaderless terrorist networks have been disputed by critics in the counterterrorism community. Sageman, in a 13 page letter annexed to the Khadr Clemency filing endeavored to demean Welner’s testimony and use of Sennels’ breakthrough research at the Guantanamo Tribunal.

In conducting his analysis of Khadr in fall 2010, Welner had found Sennels’ research intriguing enough for it to become relevant in Welner’s direct testimony at the Guantanamo Tribunal in October, 2010. It was the only available research on adolescent Muslim offenders from a Western population. Khadr was a 15 year old Canadian–Afghan captured in the rubble of a Al Qaeda fortress in Khost, Afghanistan in July, 2002 after “killing his American,” hurling a grenade at US Army Medic, SFC. Christopher Speers.  

The Guantanamo Military Tribunal conviction of Omar Khadr was based upon his acceptance of a plea bargain in late October, 2010. The tribunal convened for a sentencing hearing before an empanelled jury of military officers who were unaware of the plea deal. The defense attempted then to reduce the term; prosecutors (symbolically) argued to sentence Khadr to 25 years. Welner testified in support of the prosecution’s position, and was cross examined heavily on Sennels political opinions. The defense attempted to redirect jurors away from the substance of Sennels’ research and its relevance by representing him as an Islamophobe and Welner by extension. In the end, the jury saw through this insincerity by handing Khadr a forty year sentence, fifteen more years than prosecutors were even asking for.


Dr. Stephen N. Xenakis, the ‘useful tool’ who never testified

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

In December 2010, the Khadr defense team had another ‘useful tool’ in the person of psychiatrist and former Army Brig. General 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.

Dr. Xenakis had long been retained as an expert by the Khadr defense team who knew of his prejudgment of Khadr from having heard him lecture. Over years, Xenakis had interviewed Khadr and assisted him, even with his grooming, and attended his trial.  However, he never provided testimony in the tribunal. Instead his role became the leading edge of the Khadr defense team attack on both Welner and Sennels by playing the foil in the court of popular opinion. He used as a bully pulpit an Op Ed in the Washington Post in December, 2010, “Radical Jihadism is Not a Mental Disorder.”

Xenakis, who had been at the Khadr trial and heard Welner’s testimony, blasted both Welner and Sennels:

During the trial, according to my notes and observations, Welner depicted Khadr as a continuing risk to society. "In my professional opinion, Omar Khadr is at a high risk of dangerousness as a radical jihadist," Welner said. Based on hundreds of hours of reviewing records and interviewing witnesses, and 7 to 8 hours of examining the prisoner, the doctor said he concluded that Khadr was a radical jihadist who was at risk of inspiring others to violent acts in the future.

But radical Jihadism is not a clinical condition, and diagnosing it is not within the domain of psychiatric experts. Radical Jihadism is an ideology - and can be embraced by the psychiatrically sane and insane alike.

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.

[. . .]

Through testimony disguised as expert psychiatric opinion, the prosecution portrayed Khadr as having "marinated" in Jihadi thinking before and during his long internment at Guantanamo, and described him as a "rock star" who, as the son of a close lieutenant of [the late] Osama bin Laden, enjoyed the adulation of other detainees.

Welner, in a letter to the Washington Post, and Sennels in remarks published in the NER rebutted Xenakis. 

Welner noted in “What I really said about radical Jihadism . . .":

Assessing risk of dangerous jihadist activity borrows from clinical understandings about criminal and violent recidivism, but it must reflect the context of actual jihadist violence or an individual's ability to facilitate that violence. My testimony related only to this defined context. Neither this methodology nor my qualifications were contested.

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.

My effort also included the research data of Danish correctional psychologist Nicolai Sennels, precisely because Sennels has studied and treated large-scale groups of young Muslim and non-Muslim inmates. Sennels' work has been lauded by the Danish Psychological Association. . . Sennels' research findings also were 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.

Sennels, unpublished letter, to the Washington Post, published in the NER responded to Xenakis’ criticisms:

As a correctional psychologist I have attempted to help Danish society with a Muslim prison population to avoid possible criminal recidivism. The findings from that effort are the only available published relevant comparative research available to the West. Some of my findings corroborate research on psychiatric risk assessment of unrelated populations.  . . Among the more disturbing findings from my research was the more devout a Muslim inmate was, or the less he identified with Western values, the greater the likelihood of criminal recidivism.

Findings from my study of young criminal Muslims in Denmark drew praise from the Danish Psychological Association for being "convincing and well founded".  My work stands on solid research findings and peer review comments. Can Dr. Xenakis say the same about his own unscrutinized defense advocacy?

In early April, 2011, Ha’aretz interviewed 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:

"At first I didn't know about the [Khadr] case," Xenakis recalls. "I am a physician and a psychiatrist, and I think that my obligation is to be able to act professionally in the best way I can according to the ethics and principles upon which I've been trained, and I am obligated to look at something as openly and honestly as I can.

Once I explored the case and the facts there, I felt that he was innocent, and that he was mistreated, and it was not something I could uphold as an officer or physician. I realized he was tortured - he was shot twice in the back, he suffered from wounds, and when I went to examine him he had an anxiety attack. To me, this confirmed that he was tortured and was still suffering from post-traumatic stress. But he is not a person who hates.

Having failed at trial, the original plea bargain was disputed in March 2011 in the aforementioned clemency request. With Xenakis having exhausted his usefulness, the defense turned to Dr. Sageman and his aspirations to involve himself in terrorism cases.  Sageman, using a familiar style of attacking other terror scholars and touting himself as the penultimate terrorism expert, now took aim at Dr. Welner and Nicolai Sennels. The brief was leaked to Toronto Star national security correspondent Michelle Shephard, the author of Guantanamo’s Child: The Untold Story of Omar Khadr.

Shephard (whose book was one of the more effective pieces of sympathetic propaganda available to Khadr before he pleaded guilty), was a willing accomplice in the cabal seeking to overturn the plea bargain deal. She included gratuitous references to the attacks of Sageman and the defense in her Toronto Star “scoop.”

Before Shepard wrote the article, in an emailed response to her exploratory inquiry after the defense leaked the clemency request to Shepard, Welner provided her with extensive documentation in response to her queries. In a letter to Shepard, Welner characterized the defense document as “slimy and pathetic.” Shepard went with the story anyway, creating a spate of international coverage for a false story.


Enter Tom Joscelyn exposing Marc Sageman

Tom Joscelyn, Senior Fellow at the Washington, DC-based, Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and acknowledged intelligence expert on detainees at GITMO, wrote a scathing criticism of Sageman in The Weekly Standard, “The False Martyr,” about  Sageman’s role in the Khadr Clemency appeal raising questions of his credibility and agenda. Joscelyn noted:

As part of their latest legal gambit, Khadr’s defense lawyers have received help from a well-known, but highly controversial, terrorism “expert” named Dr. Marc Sageman. Sageman assailed Welner in a 13-page letter submitted to defense counsel. But Sageman’s letter is filled with errors, both of fact and omission. This should not be surprising, as Sageman has consistently misdiagnosed the terrorist threat.

In his letter to defense counsel, Sageman claimed he was an “internationally recognized expert in terrorism and counter-terrorism.” Of course, Sageman did not explain that his research has been consistently criticized by others in the field. As Bruce Hoffman wrote in Foreign Affairs in 2008, Sageman’s “impressive resumé cannot overcome his fundamental misreading of the al Qaeda threat.”

Sageman likes to portray himself as the “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. 

Sageman is famous for his “Leaderless Jihad” theory, which maintains that the threat of “homegrown” terrorists exceeds that of organized terrorist groups such as al Qaeda. It is demonstrably false.

The West clearly faces a homegrown terrorist threat. . .  The empirical evidence shows – overwhelmingly – that al Qaeda, its affiliates, and like-minded terrorist organizations remain the principle threat to international security.

A “bunch of guys,” as Sageman calls them, getting together to orchestrate their own jihadist attacks have not come close to matching the work of the professionals. Still, Sageman persists in his belief.

                        [. . .]

The chief reason that al Qaeda and its affiliates have not successfully launched more attacks against the U.S., in particular, is that intelligence and law enforcement officials by and large ignore Sageman’s admonition that they are fighting the “wrong foe.” Luck also plays a large role.

[. . .]

Omar Khadr has been turned into something of a martyr in the left’s imagination. . .

Anyone who stands in the way of Khadr’s complete exoneration deserves to be slimed. The defense team has no compunction about making things up. Marc Sageman was more than happy to join their effort. And so a highly-respected forensic psychiatrist, Dr. Michael Welner, is attacked online. 


UPDATE: A Case of Malpractice 

A malpractice case in Philadelphia in 2002 exposed Marc Sageman's lack of professional credibility as a doctor of psychiatry. Neither was that judgement cited in his application for a Maryland Medical license in 2006.

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.

  • 6/14/02 THE JURY FOUND THAT DEFENDANT SAGEMAN'S CONDUCT SUBSTANTIALLY INCREASED THE RISK OF HARM, AND THAT DEFENDANT SAGEMAN'S NEGLIGENCE WAS NOT A SUBSTANTIAL FACTOR IN CAUSING HARM. THE JURY FOUND PLAINTIFF 50% NEGLIGENT AND DEFENDANT SAGEMAN 50% NEGLIGENT. THE MONETARY AWARD IS $50,000, WITH A FINAL VERDICT OF $25,000 FOR THE PLAINTIFF. ALL OTHER DEFENDANTS WERE DISMISSED PRIOR TO TRIAL.
  • 7/26/02 FINAL JUDGMENT IS ENTERED ON THE VERDICT PURSUANT TO PA RCP 227.4 IN FAVOR OF PLAINTIFF AGAINST THE DEFENDANT, MARC SAGEMAN, M.D.PH.D., IN THE AMOUNT OF $25,000.

On Sageman’s application form for a Maryland medical license, he asserted in 2006 that there were no malpractice judgments against him for the past ten years. See here.

As the Pennsylvania docket indicates, a malpractice judgment had been entered against him in the amount of $25,000 in 2002. Now certainly many medical practitioners have been sued civilly for malpractice sometimes with material awards. However, when requested to indicate whether any malpractice claims had been handed down within the prior 10 years, Sageman had for some reason neglected to indicate the Philadelphia matter on his application for a Maryland medical license in 2006. Was that an oversight, or was it purposeful, so as to qualify for professional malpractice coverage? We don’t know. Only, Dr. Sageman does. Because public records are easily accessible these days of electronic dockets and licensing databases, Sageman should have known better and not falsified his application.

More disturbing are excerpts from the transcript of Dr. Stephen Siebert, a forensic psychiatrist expert with the Court system in Baltimore, who provided testimony for the plaintiff In Re: Christina Price v. Dr. Marc Sageman in The Court of Common Pleas in Philadelphia on June 10, 2002.

Q.     DOCTOR, BASED UPON YOUR REVIEW OF THE RECORDS IN THIS CASE AND YOUR ALMOST 20 YEARS OF EXPERIENCE AS A PSYCHIATRIST, DO YOU HAVE AN OPINION AS TO WHETHER OR NOT DR. SAGEMAN'S DECISION TO TREAT CHRISTINA PRICE'S A.D.D. WITH METHADONE FELL BENEATH THE STANDARD OF CARE?

 A.      YES, I DO HAVE AN OPINION.

 Q.     COULD YOU TELL THE JURY WHAT THAT IS, PLEASE?

 A.     MY OPINION IS THAT THE PRESCRIPTION OF METHADONE FOR ATTENTION DEFICIT DISORDER IN CHRISTINA PRICE WAS BELOW THE GENERALLY ACCEPTED STANDARD OF CARE FOR THE TREATMENT OF ATTENTION DEFICIT DISORDER AT THE POINT IN TIME WHEN HE PRESCRIBED THAT.  AND THAT IT PLACED HER AT RISK OF HAVING KNOWN AND SIGNIFICANT MEDICAL COMPLICATIONS.

Q.     IF YOU COULD, DOCTOR, COULD YOU GIVE ME BRIEF SUMMARY OF YOUR FINDINGS?

A.     YES.  MY OPINION IS THAT THE ENSUING COMPLICATIONS INCLUDED METHADONE DEPENDENCE, AN EXACERBATION OF A PREVIOUSLY DIAGNOSED OPIATE DEPENDENCE; THAT THIS PUT HER AT RISK FOR A SEVERE OPIATE WITHDRAWAL SYNDROME THAT ITSELF REQUIRED MEDICAL TREATMENT, INSTITUTIONALIZATION AND A VARIETY OF REHABILITATION TREATMENTS. AND ALSO THAT THE PRESCRIPTION OF METHADONE INCREASED HER VULNERABILITY TO OTHER CONDITIONS.

This writer is acquainted with the addictive qualities of Methadone having conducted program evaluations as a consultant to a Bronx, New York Methadone Clinic in the 1970’s.

These revelations add to the mounting evidence as reflected in this chronicle of the Khadr episode and the current controversies arising from the Breivik mass murders in Norway that Sageman will stoop to any lengths to embroider his past or discredit the reputations of worthy experts and researchers in directly relevant fields of forensic psychiatry such as Dr. Michael Welner and Danish psychologist Nicolai Sennels, as well as leading non-violent proponents of counter-Jihadism. Perhaps the revelations about Sageman’s prior malpractice trial in Philadelphia, nearly a decade ago, might reach the Maryland medical licensing authorities and trigger an investigation or hearing to determine if he should be fined and/or deprived of licensing privileges there. 


Cowboy” ex-CIA Covert Officer comments on Sageman’s intelligence expertise

Sageman’s 13 page letter in the Khadr Clemency appeal contained a number of representations about his research in the field as an alleged CIA case officer.  The defense clemency request touts Sageman’s background: 

. . . he joined the Central Intelligence Agency. 

Dr. Sageman spent a year on the Afghan Task Force and then went to Islamabad from 1987 to 1989, where he ran the U.S. unilateral programs with the Afghan Mujahideen. After serving for two more years in New Delhi, Dr. Sageman resigned from the agency to return to medicine.

 After 9/11, Dr. Sageman started collecting biographical material on about 400 al Qaeda terrorists, to test the validity of the conventional wisdom on terrorism. This research has been published as Understanding Terror Networks (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004).

Cowboy commented that Sageman had no contact with Al Qaeda or Taliban and was not engaged in covert operations. His publisher noted that he was under cover as a foreign service officer in Pakistan. Cowboy noted that at that time Saudi Arabia was supporting the efforts of Palestinian Sheikh and Jihadist 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.

Sageman’s collection of 400 biographical materials on al Qaeda operatives were by his own admission begun after 9/11 and derived from open sources and well after he had left the agency. According to Cowboy there weren’t enough Al Qaeda terrorists that could have been interrogated at the time. That compiled information, according to Cowboy, was likely derived from redacted field interrogation notes of the ISI, making them at best, anecdotal, secondary materials. Cowboy noted that there is no footnoted documentation in Sageman’s work, Leaderless Networks; moreover the so-called research was not published in any peer-reviewed professional journals.


The Vindication of Sennels

Sageman’s letter in the clemency request suggested that the GITMO Tribunal throw out the Welner testimony because of its inclusion of the work of Nicolai Sennels. Sageman devoted fully eleven pages in his affidavit for the Khadr clemency appeal endeavoring to destroy the credibility of both Sennels and his research on grounds that it was not “scientific,” among numerous other personal and professional attacks. Sageman had gone to extraordinary lengths by having a research assistant translate Sennels’ book from the Danish - even as Sageman himself read virtually none of the evidence in the Khadr case.   

In response to the Sageman letter, Welner gathered information from a variety of sources, including translations of Danish publications to expose Sageman’s fraudulent assertions. A number of those translations were provided through the auspices of Lars Hedegaard, leader of the Danish Free Press Society, and also a member of the board of the Danish Free Press Library that published Sennels’ work, Among Criminal Muslims (See our 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. 

Welner notes Sageman’s misguided premise in a 22 page appendix rebuttal document Sageman’s False & Misleading Assertions about Sennels filed against the Khadr appeal by the Government in the GITMO Tribunal proceeding:

Dr. Sageman concentrated most of his letter on plundering Dr. Nicolai Sennels, author of Among Criminal Muslims, whose clinical research was one of over 120 sources relied upon in my assessment. Dr. Sennels’ experience treating adolescent law-breaking Muslims, a population with relevance to Omar Khadr, contributed clinical input to the assessment of Omar Khadr.  

Welner argued cogently against Sageman’s assertion that Sennels had “generally been ignored by the professional community and dismissed as a polemical and prejudiced book,” based on a translated favorable review of Sennels’ book in the journal of the Danish Psychological Association. 

 Welner noted:

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:

1)  Dr. Sennels’ research methodology is appreciated by fellow scientists. 

2)  Dr. Sennels’ conclusions are explicitly appraised to not be original to Dr. Sennels – in other words, they echo the findings of other clinicians before him. The idea suggested by Dr. Sageman that the application of Dr. Sennels’ work to a psychological evaluation in some way betrays the science is therefore disingenuous.

There is no evidence that Dr. Sageman or any other defense witness ever heard of Adorno, Miller, or Antonovsky (others who offered similar opinions to Dr. Sennels) as noted above. Alternatively, Dr. Sageman intentionally omitted this information to bolster his malicious argument.

3)  The above review echoes my impression about Dr. Sennels’ work that the psychologist has always been motivated by a therapeutic initiative. While the defense has attempted to distract with hyperbolic and irrelevant references to Dr. Sennels’ writing about inbreeding, this work is recognized by colleagues for the appropriateness of its tone and absence of prejudice.

4)  The reviewer in the Danish Psychological Association publication, in fact, points out that the political climate in Denmark stifles scientific honesty, but Dr. Sennels’ work is substantive, necessary and needed by the clinical community. The repudiation of Sennels’ conclusions simply because they distinguish cultural vulnerabilities in Muslim youth runs contrary to a profession that gains relevance only for its ability to incisively reflect patients’ weaknesses in the mirror, that we may try to remedy them.

5)  Dr. Sageman discounts Dr. Sennels’ book for giving rise to “polemical discussions.”

The above review notes it deals with the book strictly on its own academic aspects. This is exactly how I dealt with Sennels’ findings in my own assessment and testimony. It is noteworthy that Dr. Sageman and his grad student translator did have access to the same review above when he was undertaking his purported “unbiased” evaluation.

The contention that Dr. Sennels’ work has been “rejected by the local scientific community” is factually incorrect and self-serving. It is correct that the book has inspired debate. So do scientific initiatives of many dimensions.

Welner takes the assertion by Sageman that Sennels did not have broad recognition by the Danish to task. He references critical discussions in Danish general publications and comments of Danish Muslim political leaders.  He cites a thoughtful article about Sennels’ research implications on Danish social policy, “Consequence: Cultural Divides” By Frede Vestergaard in the largest circulation Danish weekly publication, Weekendavisen of March 6, 2009 which has no political agenda. Welner includes this comment from Danish Muslim parliamentary minister, Naser Khader about the impact of Sennels’ work:

The professional expertise that Nicolai Sennels has is exceptional and with Nicolai Sennels’ clear and practical examples throughout the book the reader gets unprecedented insights in the courses of the integration problems. The book ought to be obligatory reading in all schools for teachers and social workers.

Welner cites this comment by Khader as evidence that Sageman’s allegations about Sennels’ nativist prejudices are wrong;

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.

Welner chastises Sageman for accusing the publisher, The Free Speech Library, as being anti-Islamic in an attempt to deny Sennels’ free speech. Lars Hedegaard, head of the Danish and International Free Press Societies, noted during our interview with him the auspices that the Free Speech Library provided for the Sennels’ book.

Gordon:  You facilitated the publication of 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.

Dr. Sageman targets Dr. Sennels’ publisher – however, he is wrong again in even noting the identity of the publisher. Dr. Sennels’ book was published by The Free Speech Library, whose website can be found at 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.

[. . .]

Dr. Sennels’ book sold out of its first printing within weeks and its second printing within months. To appreciate the significance of this, consider that outside of Denmark and its population of 5.4 million, virtually no one reads Danish. There are 600 million English speakers; Dr. Sennels’ sales figures, projected to an English speaking audience would translate to a respectable 111,000. Dr. Sennels’ book is now being reprinted in English – its foreword is to be written by a well-known Syrian-born psychiatrist.

As a frame of reference, Dr Sageman’s book Leaderless Jihad has sold 12,500 copies total, despite its English-speaking audience.

Sageman’s specious accusation that Sennels’ methodologies employed in his therapeutic research are fraudulent based on hearsay from Sennels’ former supervisor, since dismissed from his position.  Welner quotes from Sennels about the methodology he employed in his research:

I met individually and at length with all youths that arrived at Sønderbro at least once. I had around 250 young people in my therapy room while working at Sønderbro. Around 90 percent of these participated in group therapy (mindfulness therapy and Anger Management). Around 15 percent also had individual therapy.

Sønderbro is a relatively small and secured institution with 15 places and around 100 young people moving in and out each year; I could therefore follow their development very closely and professionally assess degree of regret, empathy, emotional control, anger, respect for authorities, and identification with society, among other clinical signs and symptoms.”

When Sageman asserts that Sennels had not conducted any research with criminals, Welner referred back to his GITMO Tribunal testimony in October, 2010 articulating  why he originally found the Sennels’ Danish Muslim adolescent offender research compelling.

the reason that I have found (Sennels) work intriguing and informative, [. . .] is because Dr. Sennels is engaging his young patient population in an entirely therapeutic capacity. He is a psychologist and not at all involved in evaluation or the adversarial system or court or any of that.  He just has patients he has been treating them.

[. . .]

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.

At the conclusion of this rebuttal Welner juxtaposes Sageman’s specious theories about what motivates terrorist networks versus Sennels’ rigorous investigation disclosing young Muslim offenders’ adherence to rejectionist Islamic doctrine complicating therapy and revealing strong recidivist tendencies.

In another critique by a colleague academic, Sageman was cited for academic plagiarism, and mistakes in attribution were acknowledged by Sageman’s own publisher at Penn Press.

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

Sageman touts his own experience with terrorists to advance his scholarship. But closer scrutiny demonstrates that his own work was never peer reviewed by the psychiatric community, and that there is little information about his sample of “terrorists.” More importantly, how possibly could Marc Sageman the CIA agent who left the CIA in 1991 have been conducting any study of live terrorists on the scale he claims?  How many al-Qaeda terrorists were even in existence in 1991? What capacity did he have to conduct interviews or research – or was his information culled from third party jottings of their own task, which had nothing to do with a methodology to inform the psychology of terrorists?

Another psychiatrist noted in a peer-reviewed criticism of Sageman that he had “no formal method for confirming these indirect psychiatric impressions,” and further added, “Sageman’s psychiatric assessments of Islamic Mujahideen were exclusively based on secondary sources that did not include any objective behavioral data.” Dr. Sageman attacked Sennels on the grounds that his data was unquantified. Unquantified – but accurate -- data is absolutely part of the scientific body of knowledge. Dr. Sageman has no problem claiming his own unquantified data as science.

The Military Legal Convening Authority rejected Khadr’s motion for clemency. In so doing, they recognized the contrived, pusillanimous misstatements of fact and unprofessional personal animus towards Welner and Sennels given vent by Sageman in his letter annexed to the Clemency motion. The credibility of self promoting ideologues and alleged forensic psychiatrists like Xenakis and Sageman are diminished by the Convening Authority’s decision and the solid professional work of prosecution expert witnesses, Dr. Michael Welner and Danish Psychologist Nicolai Sennels. The counter-terrorism community in our government ought to think twice about retaining the services of Dr. Sageman. The updated revelations about Dr. Sageman's 2002 malpractise judgment also demonstrates why the mainstream media ought to conduct due diligence on its preferred experts before rendering a judgment in the court of popular opinion. We have amply demonstrated Sageman's lack of credibility in the Khadar plea motion in the GITMO Military Tribunal denied by the Convening Authority. Now with these new revelations, Dr. Sageman’s professional standing should be seriously questioned, as well.


 [1] Sageman was not acting as a psychiatrist in the CIA – he did his residency afterward


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