Maher Arar, Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El-Maati, Muayyed Nureddin, RCMP, CISIS and the Canadian Government
To uphold what is right, is a good translation of the RCMP's motto Maintien le Droit. However, their tradition of doing so is not without blemishes. The most recent example of this - their actions with resepect to Maher Arar - are not only a betrayal of their motto, they are also a complete negation of what most Canadians believe in.
Canadians could have expected that the RCMP had learned its lessons after its criminal activities of the break-ins at Agence de Presse Libre du Québec (APLQ) in October 1972 and at the headquarters of the Parti Quebecois, a legal political party in Quebec, became public knowledge. They also resorted to arson by burning down a barn alleged to have been the place of a planned meeting between members of the Black Panther Party and people belonging to the FLQ.
The then Solicitor-General of Canada, Francis Fox admitted five years later that the RCMP had participated in the illegal acts of burning the barn and the theft of dynamite in the Montreal area and that computer tapes containing the names of the members of the Parti Québécois had been taken by the RCMP in 1973.
The trial of Robert Samson, a former constable of the RCMP and a member of the RCMP Security Service, took place in Montreal in March 1976. Samson was in court on charges arising from the bombing of the Montreal residence of a Steinberg's supermarket executive. During his trial, Samson testified that he had been involved in other questionable activities for the RCMP besides the bombing incident. When asked to explain he referred to "Operation Bricole." This was the code name for the unlawful entry and removal of documents from the Agence de Presse Libre du Québec (APLQ), a left-wing news agency located at 3459 St. Hubert Street, Montreal, which had occurred on 7 October 1972. ...Jean-Guy Chrétien, an MP, claimed that police officers involved in these crimes were subsequently promoted.
The APLQ matter was far from an isolated incident. The RCMP Security Service had indeed been involved in other unlawful activities.
After Samson, and others who took part in the APLQ incident, pleaded guilty, the implications of the case became widely known. The fact that officers from three different police forces namely: the RCMP Security Service, the Quebec Provincial Police Force and the Montreal City Police had participated in the APLQ break-in indicated that it was a highly organized operation. The Government of Quebec reacted to the APLQ affair by appointing a commission of inquiry under Jean Keable to investigate that incident, as well as other unauthorized activities of the RCMP in the province.
Soon, more about activities of the RCMP Security Service that were not authorized or provided for by law became known, but the most disturbing revelations came from within the force itself. When ex-Staff Sergeant Donald McCleery and ex-Sergeant Gilles Brunet met with senior officials of the Solicitor General and the Department of Justice, on 6 and 23 June 1977, concerning their discharge from the force, they made allegations that other members of the RCMP Security Service had been involved in searches without warrants, unauthorized mail openings and the use of forged documents.
It is an elementary rule that most understand: You cannot do good, not to mention 'uphold the law', by doing evil.
The findings of the Keable Inquiry so embarrassed the Liberal government that the MacDonald Commission was hurriedly set-up as damage control. They recommended the establishment of CISIS, which was given wide ranging powers including the right to carry out activities which would otherwise be illegal. However, these powers do not include the right to hand over a Canadian citizen to the US government in order to transfer him to Syria to extract by torture what they could not prove. It was not only illegal but also stupid as it is a known fact that torture is not only repulsive but does not lead to useful results either. Victims will say anything they think their torturers want to hear to stop the pain.
Maher Arar was traveling through New York when he was arrested by US authorities on spurious charges of being involved with terrorism, and then “rendered” to Syria. He was incarcerated there for nine months and tortured. From the beginning, it was apparent that US authorities had acted on the basis of allegations forwarded by their Canadian counterparts, CSIS and the RCMP. To compound their travesty he was smeared upon his return by leaking to the press a “confession” extracted from him by torture.
The Toronto Star published a letter, on September 23, 2006, written by Don Weitz. (This had been linked to the Toronto Star site but the link went dead.) I couldn't have said it better myself with the exception that I would have said officials should be charged and fired.
Officials should be charged or fired.
RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli should immediately resign and those RCMP and consular officials involved in any way with the Maher Arar case should be criminally charged and suspended or fired.
RCMP and Canadian consular officials in Jordan and Syria did not just "mishandle" the Arar case but lied to American security officials by feeding them information they knew was false or unsubstantiated.
Since Judge Dennis O'Connor has declared Arar completely innocent of all charges, both Zaccardelli and Prime Minister Stephen Harper owe Arar, his wife and children a formal apology and substantial financial compensation.
Gar Pardy, former ambassador and director general of consular affairs at Foreign Affairs, wrote an excellent article in the Ottawa Citizen, September 23, 2006. (The link might not work; I got there via Google News but often it's impossible to get to a piece linked by Google News when one tries using the url, or sometimes the url expires.)
The same old Mounties
Justice Dennis O'Connor, in the quiet demeanour of a wise and intelligent man, has provided a comprehensive and devastating account of the tragedy of Maher Arar. ...
The fundamental problem with the Arar Commission's first report is that it provides little historical context or policy prescriptions for the issues associated with policing in Canada. Its specific recommendations, laudable as they all are, do not (and perhaps could not given Justice O'Connor's mandate) address any of the serious structural, policy and political-oversight issues that have plagued policing and security matters in Canada for a large number of years.
These issues are not new. Twenty-five years ago, the McDonald Commission of Inquiry looked at many of these questions and provided comprehensive recommendations to the Trudeau government in 1981. As a result the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) was established along with an independent oversight body called the Security Intelligence Review Commission (SIRC). The RCMP was stripped of responsibility for national security matters, although the staffing for the new CSIS was made up of former members of the RCMP.
There were even earlier reports on these matters. The Kellock-Taschereau Commission concerning the defection of Igor Gouzenko as long ago as 1946 highlighted some of these issues. Twenty years later, in 1968, it was necessary to again look at some of the same problems and the Mackenzie Royal Commission again made recommendations.
A reading of the McDonald report provides a sense of deja vu when compared to what Justice O'Connor has to say. Many of the same issues are covered and, given the record of the RCMP, it will bob and weave on Justice O'Connor's recommendations. ...
The respected journalist Eric Margolis sees it this way:
Officials directly involved in the most sordid, disgraceful case in Canada’s modern history, must face justice. They are as much guilty as the torturers who beat Maher Arar mercilessly for 10 months.
Maher Arar: "They ruined my life"
Click on the black space to listen to Maher Arar tell his story on this video. (It's not quite 3 minutes long.)
There are three more men, Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El-Maati and Muayyed Nureddin, who have endured ordeals similar to Maher Arar. Most Canadians probably don't even know about them. But we should really ask ourselves what kind of society we live in where such lawless acts can be carried out by the police and intelligence forces who are supposed to uphold the law. Justice O'Connor was surprised that a commission of inquiry was necessary for this. Every Canadian should be too. We should also critically examine the so-called war on terror and try to see through the haze of official propaganda even if it is not an easy task.
The official report by The Honourable Dennis R. O'Connor, Associate Chief Justice of Ontario, into the wrongdoing inflicted upon Maher Arar can be found here. There will be another report in a few months with recommendations for the future.
Added Sep 29, 2006:
I think RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli should be charged in a court of law. He swore to uphold the law and he is subject to Canadian law. I'm not a lawyer but I can't believe that there is no law in this country making it a crime to send somebody to another country to be tortured. And he knew, or should have known, that Arar would get tortured. In any case, after this he is not a person who should be heading the RCMP.
Heafey [former chair of the RCMP Public Complaints Commission] clashed often with him. When she lodged a complaint (this had been linked to an article at the Toronto Star site but the link went dead) on behalf of Arar, she says she received a 1 1/2-page letter eight months later, admitting nothing but a few policy irregularities.
Added October 12, 2006
Amnesty International demands federal inquiry into Canadian detainee cases
Amnesty International on Thursday called on the Canadian government to launch independent investigations into the cases of three more Muslim citizens who were detained and allegedly tortured in Syria while being interrogated about terrorist ties.
The human rights group also demanded that recommendations by a federal commission that reviewed the Maher Arar case, which spurred outrage among Muslims and civil libertarians, be quickly implemented. ...
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has stopped short of apologizing to Arar, but told U.S. President George W. Bush he would file a complaint with Washington, saying Arar was done a "tremendous injustice."
In his report released last month, O'Connor said three other cases raised troubling questions about the role of Canadian officials in the torture of Canadian citizens and urged the government to appointment independent investigators into those cases.
Amnesty International wants federal inquiry into other cases like ArarWhat is the Prime Minister waiting for?
Amnesty International is calling on the federal government to hurry up and follow the recommendations of the Maher Arar commission by launching an "independent, comprehensive and fair" inquiry into the cases of three men who also were detained and allegedly tortured in Syria.
Similarities among the cases raise disturbing questions about Canada's role in their ordeals, Alex Neve, the group's Canadian secretary general, told a news conference Thursday.
"All of these men were of interest in the course of Canadian national security investigations," Neve said. "All of these men were tortured in the same military intelligence building in Damacus.
"All of these cases raise deeply disturbing questions about the possibility of Canadian complicity in what happened to them - complicity in arbitrary imprisonment, complicity in torture." ...
"Someone has to answer for the 22 months I spent in jail for no reason," Almalki said. "And someone has to be held accountable for continuously feeding unreliable information that kept me in an underground solitary confinement cell for 482 consecutive days." ...
Almalki said reading the Arar report was difficult, especially learning that Canada's ambassador in Damacus handed RCMP questions to Syrian authorities to ask Arar.
"It was hard to imagine to what point the Canadian government degraded and dehumanized me," Almalki said. "It looks like they basically did not consider me as a human being any more, let alone as a Canadian citizen.
"What were they thinking?"
El Maati, who was imprisoned for two years and two months, said he has had no place to go for answers.
His ordeal began on Sept. 11, 2001, when two CSIS agents showed up at his door. He said they threatened him when he asked for a lawyer and implied he could be subjected to torture by secret police.
"They told me they would stop my wife from coming to Canada if I did not co-operate with them," he said. "Two months later, I was in a Syrian cell being tortured" by the very people CSIS had talked about.
"They asked me questions that could only have come from Canada. Two-and-a-half months later, I was in an Egyptian cell being tortured. . . . These (torturers) asked me Canadian questions.
"My life was destroyed." ...
Others who have called for independent review of the three cases include the UN human rights committee and an all-party group of former MPs. ...
"The review must be able to investigate matters fully, without any limitations, without any restrictions on access to information or individuals. The review process must be one that inspires public confidence in the outcome."
Added January 14, 2007:
Time to guard the guardians says Justice Dennis O'Connor calling for a new watchdog to independently monitor and review all RCMP activities, including national security, in a bid to prevent a replay of the Maher Arar affair.
Maher Aarar's own website. It includes many useful links.
Added January 20, 2007:
Maher Arar sent a video message to the audience at the 2006 Letellier-Moffit Human Rights Award. He and the Center for Constitutional Rights were awarded the International Award. It was impossible for him to attend the ceremony because he was (is?) still barred from entry into the United States.
Length: 7:45 mins
Length: 7:45 mins
Transcript (pdf file)
Amy Goodman of Democracy Now dealt with "extraordinary renditions" in general and Maher Arar in particular in this program. (It includes part of the video message linked to above. Total length: 29 mins) Stephen Grey, British journalist and author, who helped to expose the secret rendition flights and torture programs of the CIA was the invited guest. In his book he tells the story of 87 CIA victims and according to him some of them are still in their Syrian cells. Incidentally, one of the victims supposedly involved in 9-11 was sent there to prevent him from testifying, which again raises questions about unknown aspects of 9-11.
Sen. Patrick Leahy questioning Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on Extraordinary Rendition Victim Maher Arar: "We Knew Damn Well He’d Be Tortured”
The first 5 minutes of this clip. (It is followed by a fascinating interview - albeit about sickening deeds done to African Americans - with Harriet Washington, author of Medical Apartheid. Dr. Mengele wasn't the first to use human beings as subjects.)
Added January 26, 2007
Maher Arar will be given a compensation package amounting to more than $10-million, government sources told The Globe and Mail.
The package, the highest in Canadian history and the first relating to the torture of a citizen overseas, will be announced by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in recognition of the role the government and the security services played in his deportation to Syria in 2002. Mr. Arar had been seeking an apology and $37-million, down from his initial demand for $400-million. ...
Mr. Arar was left shattered by his experience. He struggles with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder while making a new life for himself and his family in British Columbia. ...
... a separate inquiry has been called into the case of three others, Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El Maati and Muyyed Nurredin. Former Supreme Court judge Frank Iacobucci is looking into their cases. ...