The actions of Canadian spies and apparent indifference to the fate of trucker Ahmad El Maati “likely contributed indirectly” to his torture, writes former Supreme Court of Canada justice Frank Iacobucci.
The comments come in a once-secret supplement to Iacobucci’s 2008 report on the overseas imprisonment and torture of El Maati and two other Arab-Canadian men in cases eerily reminiscent to that of Maher Arar. The supplemental report was released after federal objections to its disclosure were “resolved” following more than a year of legal wrangling about whether national security would be harmed.
The report raises new concerns about how, in the post-9/11 era, Canadian Security Intelligence Service officials chucked aside human rights in their zeal to safeguard national security.
El Maati, who said he was repeatedly questioned on what he says were false confessions induced under torture in Syria, had been transferred to Egypt in January 2002 after a two-month detention in Syria. El Maati says he bears the physical and psychological scars of Egyptian interrogations. CSIS admitted to Iacobucci that it was aware of El Maati’s claims of mistreatment in Syria, and considered the possibility that further Canadian questioning could provoke more trouble for him in Egypt.
Lacobucci says there was a hands-off approach to the issue of torture by the anti-terror agencies. El Maati’s plight and that of the two other men – Abdullah Almalki and Muayyed Nureddin – is remarkably similar to that of Arar. Like Arar, the three men, who deny any involvement in terrorism, were all abused in Syrian prisons. The three men are now suing the Canadian government. The federal Conservative government settled with Arar for $10.5 million in compensation. But it has yet to apologize to the other three.
A majority in the House of Commons says the Canadian government must apologize for the torture ordeals of three Muslim-Canadian men detained in Middle East jails and immediately overhaul the country’s national security review regime. The New Democratic Party brought a motion to have the full Commons endorse a June parliamentary committee report that urged the government to implement recommendations from two earlier judicial inquiries.
The committee had examined the government responses to inquires by Justice Dennis O’Connor into the Maher Arar scandal, and Justice Frank Iacobucci into the detentions abroad of three other men who were tortured in Syrian or Egyptian jails.
The Conservative government has already apologized to Maher Arar, and awarded him $10.5 million in compensation after O’Connor found he was deported to torture in Syria largely because of faulty Canadian intelligence. While there were similar findings of inflammatory labelling by Iacobucci in the cases of Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El-Maati and Muayyed Nureddin, the government has denied liability in civil lawsuits filed by the men.
A 544-page report by Justice Frank Iacubucci released last week pointed to several deficiencies in current Canadian counterterrorism techniques, suggesting in particular not to follow the example of the American Central Intelligence Agency if it should not follow proper procedures. Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government appointed Iacobucci in December 2006 to lead the investigation into Canada’s role in the detention of Canadian citizens Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El Maati and Muayyed Nureddin in Syria. Iacubucci applauded counterterrorist agents for their “conscientiousness” while highlighting how the consequences of mislabelling a suspect are enormous. The Commission also urged federal agents to be extremely careful in circulating intelligence.
Almalki, El Maati and Nureddin were detained in Syria independently when they were arrested and jailed upon their arrival. All three men have denied any links to terrorism. One who avoided this fate despite being on a similar no-fly list and under surveillance, Abdelrahman Alzahabi, told The Globe and Mail that he was able to avoid the fate of these detainees because of a warning he received form a Canadian agent not long after September 11, 2008: to stay in Canada, as the government could not be responsible for what could happen if he should leave.
James Kafieh, a lawyer representing the Canadian Arab Federation in the inquiry noted that Iacubucci’s report made conclusive that “these three men were sacrificed to show the United States that Canada was doing something.” Iacobucci found fault in the actions of Canadian police and intelligence, but added that no one had behaved improperly.
In a separate inquiry, Maher Arar received $10.5 million CAD in compensation from the government and was exonerated of any terrorist ties in 2006. The three men addressed in the Iacubucci report have filed their own lawsuits for compensation from the Canadian government.
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