The Canadian government released on Aug. 9 previously redacted information regarding the Maher Arar torture scandal, in response to a Canadian court order. The government had argued that the information should be withheld due to “national security” concerns.
The new information directly implicates the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency in Arar’s rendition to Syria, according to a statement by the Centre for Constitutional Rights, based in New York.0816 04
The documentation reveals that the CIA, with the acquiescence of Canadian diplomacy, was directly involved in making Arar an unknowing victim of their policy of rendition — a de facto U.S. policy which allows security agencies to send a subject, who cannot legally be held, to a country that is willing to use aggressive and illegal tactics to obtain information from detainees.
A Syrian-born Canadian citizen, Arar was flying back home from a vacation in Tunisia in September 2002 when he was detained by U.S. authorities during a layover in New York on charges of having links to the Islamist extremist group al-Qaeda.
Despite his Canadian passport, he was deported to his country of origin, Syria, where he was held for almost a year, and was tortured by Syrian officials.
Arar’s lawsuit in the United States, Arar vs. Ashcroft, was dismissed in February 2006 on national security and foreign policy grounds, but an appeal is moving forward.
“The information released by Canada is significant because it confirms that governments cannot be trusted when they claim to withhold information on national security grounds,” Maria LaHood, senior attorney at the Centre for Constitutional Rights, told IPS.
“The information is also significant because it shows that the CIA was involved, and that two days after Maher was jetted out of the U.S., before anyone knew where he was, CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) officials thought the U.S. wanted to send him to a country that ‘could have their way with him’ — confirming that the U.S. officials who sent Maher to Syria did so to have him interrogated under torture,” she said.
“The revelations from last week about complicity and torture confirm our worst suspicions of the dangers of unchecked executive power in a democracy,” Jason Gratl, president of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, told IPS in an interview.
“The willingness of the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) to mislead the judiciary with respect to the origins of the information derived from torture demonstrates once again that balance of power must be rectified.”
Gratl added that Canadians support an institution of accountability that would have jurisdiction over all national security matters, no matter the level of government or the ministry or department involved.
“This would mean that municipal and provincial police would be subject to rigorous oversight, including CSIS, the RCMP, immigration authorities and border security, if they fall in to the context of national security issues.
“We continue to believe Commissioner O’Connor’s decision to increase powers to the RCMP Public Complaints Commissioner and SIRC (Security Intelligence Review Committee) continues to fracture the lines of accountability between the RCMP and other institutions. We can see how this manifests itself in the treatment of Arar, which self-evidently, CSIS and the RCMP were jointly responsible,” said Gratl.
Maher Arar came to Canada in 1987. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer engineering and worked in Ottawa as a telecommunications engineer.
Then, in 2002, he fell victim to the U.S.’s xenophobic security measures in the wake of the Sep. 11, 2001 terror attacks in New York and Washington, and his nightmarish Orwellian journey began — a Canadian sent to torture in Syria by U.S. authorities.
During the year that he was being held and tortured by Syrian security, his wife ran a tireless campaign to raise public awareness of his predicament.
Upon returning to Canada, after months of Ottawa’s diplomatic ineptitude, he accused the United States and Canada of knowingly sending him to a country where torture is practised.
The quiet and unassuming Arar has since become a reluctant national symbol for constitutional rights.
The added complicity with U.S. security agencies has only added fuel to the fire domestically in Canada.
Arar’s case has been symbolically tied to the George W. Bush administration’s unpopular foreign policy in Canada.
On Jan. 26, 2007, after years of legal wrangling, Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a formal apology to Maher Arar and announced that he would be receiving 12.5 million dollars in compensation.
In April 2005, Arar had accused Canadian government officials of being complicit with his torture after released documents revealed that they expressed an interest in information revealed during his interrogation.
In May 2007, Arar was selected by Time Magazine as one of the world’s 100 most influential people “whose power, talent, or moral example is transforming our world.”
U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from the state of Vermont, released a statement at the time that the Arar case “stands as a sad symbol” of how the post-9/11 United States has been willing to sacrifice basic human rights principles for the sake of security.
Duff Conacher, director of the Ottawa-based Democracy Watch, told IPS, “The information revealed last week was another example of the Government of Canada abusing its freedom of information laws and depriving the public’s right to know basic information about their democratic process. What should be implemented is an exemption to the law that has a ‘proof of harm’ test and a public interest override — the Commissioner should be given the power to order the release of documents.” Inter Press Service