GUANTANAMO BAY — There’s something known as the Khadr “Bomb-making tape.” It’s a 2002-era video, roughly, 25 minutes in length, in which very bad men in Afghanistan videotape themselves making bombs out of what appear to be Italian circular VS-2.2 anti-tank mines with the expressed purpose of killing American soldiers. U.S. troops acquired the video some brief period of time after the firefight in Khost that resulted in Omar Khadr’s capture in July 2002. Short excerpts have leaked to 60 Minutes. Carol Rosenberg, who knows these things, says that the whole thing has only ever aired in court at Guantanamo. I watched it today during Khadr’s pre-trial hearing.

For a more substantive write-up of what it contains, read this post. In fact, I’d recommend you read it and then read the rest of this post, if you plan on reading the rest of this post. The long-story-short is that it shows Khadr — a very young-looking Khadr — handling material that it’s pretty fair to say is intended to be used in roadside bombs, but it doesn’t show him actually emplacing any of those bombs, as has become somewhat common shorthand. But I want to make a more general comment.

Most of that video is goofy. Some of that goofballery is intentional. Extremists depicted in the video crack on each other — apparently calling someone a “crocodile” is a potent dis in these circles, or at least was in 2002; although I take it it’s more likely to be used to clown on someone than to, for instance, really insult him. They do this while they’re videoed at night planting IEDs in holes they dig in the road. Another guy fans himself while talking about the imperative of waging jihad against the Americans, before pausing to add, “As for the jihad against the heat, it is the hardest.” A different guy lays what looked like a car battery on his bare chest as he reclined and tried to lick it.

Then there’s unintentional random humor. One of the big boss-men is filmed, for oddly long periods of time, sloppily eating a mango. Then they cut to something else — someone with a gun talking about religiously-sanctioned violence, or something — before returning to the guy slobbing on his fruit. Another cut. Back to boss-man, reaching for a role of pink toilet paper to clean his hands and mouth. Omar Khadr films a segment about how the house is messy but at least they give him juice. “You look like a teddy bear,” he says to a disembodied presence.

Obviously, someone can be dangerous and deadly and still maintain a sense of inappropriate humor. And something that’s lethal and off-putting can become a farce in the hands of an amateur videographer using archaic equipment. It would not surprise me for the tape to become a video display for some obnoxious hipster band should it ever leak in full. And that would be douchey. That’s not where I’m going with this.

Where I’m going with this is that the tape actually makes the people who clown around on camera look, counterintuitively, more fearsome. I don’t want to overplay this. But someone who can show that he maintains a certain self-aware distance from a conspiratorial eschatology and then go back to trying to kill people in its name? That guy is dangerous. I’m not saying that’s Khadr. He was a 15-year old in this video, if that. But the people who were willing to raise a child in this death-cult are a much different story.

Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman

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