[Ppnews] Report Criticizes US on Rendition and Torture of Innocent Canadian

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue Sep 19 11:33:22 EDT 2006


TWO STORIES FOLLOW

http://www.ccr-ny.org/v2/reports/report.asp?ObjID=fbjEa0vgHj&Content=830

AMERICAN LAWYERS FOR CANADIAN “RENDITION” VICTIM 
MAHER ARAR REACT TO REPORT FROM COMMISSION OF INQUIRY

Commission Finds that Mr. Arar Was Not Involved 
in Terrorism and Says Canadian Authorities Were 
Not Involved in Decision to Render him to Detention and Torture in Syria

Synopsis

September 18, 2006, Ottawa, Canada, and New York, 
NY – The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) 
was by Maher Arar’s side today as the Canadian 
Commission of Inquiry established to investigate 
his case released its final report. Canada 
conducted an exhaustive multi-year investigation 
that involved the cooperation of U.S. agencies: 
it found no information to implicate Mr. Arar in 
terrorism. While a U.S. District Court dismissed 
Mr. Arar’s case against high-ranking U.S. 
government officials on national security grounds 
in February, CCR is currently appealing that 
decision to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Canadian Commission found that:

- A good deal of the information Canada passed to 
the U.S. about Mr. Arar before he was detained in 
the U.S. was inaccurate, some inflammatory and unfairly prejudicial.

- There is no evidence that Canadian authorities 
were complicit in the U.S. decision to detain Mr. Arar and remove to Syria.

- After 9/11, the U.S. appeared ready to use 
extreme measures to deal with threats of 
terrorism, possibly some that might be 
unacceptable to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).

The Commission recommends that in the future 
information should never be provided to a foreign 
country where there is a credible risk that it 
will cause or contribute to the use of torture. 
It also states that Canada should assess Mr. 
Arar's claim for compensation in light of its 
findings and respond accordingly.

Maher Arar said, "I have waited a long time to 
have my name cleared. I was tortured and lost a 
year of my life. I will never be the same. The 
United States must take responsibility for what 
it did to me and must stop destroying more 
innocent lives with its unlawful actions."

CCR Staff Attorney Maria LaHood, who represents 
Mr. Arar, said: "The report begins to draw back 
the veil of secrecy that the U.S. and Canadian 
governments have draped over Mr.. Arar's 
rendition and torture. It is shameful that the 
U.S. has hidden behind the doctrine of State 
Secrets to protect itself from being held 
accountable for the gross injustice it 
perpetrated on Maher. The U.S. is the leader in 
extraordinary renditions and requires the 
complicity of other nations to carry out its 
program of extraordinary rendition; it is clear 
that it will find a less willing ally in Canada 
in the future because of what it did to Maher Arar."

Ms. LaHood went on to say, "Tellingly, the 
Americans have never provided the Canadian 
authorities with any information of their own 
about Mr.Arar that would have supported the 
removal order to send him to Syria. Given close 
cooperation between the RCMP and the American 
agencies, it seems likely that, if they had such 
information, they would have supplied it to the Canadians."

Mr.Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian citizen, was 
detained at J.F.K. Airport in September 2002 on 
his way home to his family in Canada. He was held 
in solitary confinement and interrogated without 
the benefit of legal counsel. The Administration 
labeled him a member of Al Qaeda and rendered him 
not to Canada, his home and country of 
citizenship, but to Syrian intelligence 
authorities renowned for torture. Mr... Arar 
spent ten months detained in Syria, where he was 
brutally interrogated and tortured, without 
charge. After nearly a year of confinement, 
Syrian authorities released Mr.Arar, publicly 
stating that they had found no connection to any 
criminal or terrorist organization or activity. 
Upon his return to Canada, Mr. Arar was never 
charged with any crime; nor has he been charged 
with any crime by the United States.

Canadian Inquiry Finds Torture Survivor Maher 
Arar Completely Innocent, Criticizes U.S. For 'Rendition' to Syria
http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=06/09/19/1348206

----------
The Canadian government has acknowledged for the 
first time that one of the most well-known 
victims of CIA 'extraordinary rendition' is a 
completely innocent man. On Monday, a judge 
concluded a major investigation into the case of 
Maher Arar. The Syrian-born Canadian was detained 
nearly four years ago by U.S. authorities at JFK 
airport and was sent to Syria where he was jailed 
for a year and repeatedly tortured. We speak with 
Arar's attorney, Maria LaHood. [includes rush transcript]

----------
Four years ago this month, a Canadian citizen 
named Maher Arar was on his way back to Canada 
from a family vacation in Tunisia. The 
Syrian-born man had a stopover at JFK airport in 
New York. The date was September 26, 2002. He 
wouldn't see his family for another 374 days.

After being questioned at the airport, U.S. 
officials took him to an immigration facility in 
New York. Two weeks later he was secretly flown 
to Jordan aboard a Gulfstream Jet. Maher Arar 
ended up in Syria where he was held in a cell, 
the size of a grave. He was repeatedly tortured. 
For weeks his family didn't even know where he was.

On Monday, the Canadian government admitted for 
the first time that Arar was a completely 
innocent man. Justice Dennis O'Connor released 
the findings of a two-year major investigation 
into the disappearance of Arar. The judge wrote, 
"I am able to say categorically that there is no 
evidence to indicate that Mr. Arar has committed 
any offence or that his activities constituted a 
threat to the security of Canada."

The official inquiry said that there is no 
evidence that Canadian officials played a direct 
role in his detention or deportation. However 
Justice O'Connor found that the U.S. government's 
decision to send Arar to Syria was likely based 
on inaccurate and misleading information provided 
by Canadian authorities. The judge also 
criticized the Bush administration's actions. The 
judge wrote, "They removed him to Syria against 
his wishes and in the face of his statements that 
he would be tortured if sent there."

    * Maria LaHood, lawyer for Maher Arar. She is 
an attorney with the <http://www.ccr-ny.org>Center for Constitutional Rights.

AMY GOODMAN: Maher Arar's attorney, Maria LaHood, 
joins us on the phone right now. She's a lawyer 
with the Center for Constitutional Rights and she 
is in Canada. We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Maria LaHood.

MARIA LAHOOD: Thanks, Amy, for having me on.

AMY GOODMAN: It's good to have you with us. You 
have spent the last few days with Maher Arar. Can 
you talk about his reaction to the judge's 
finding? And clearly lay out what this report says.

MARIA LAHOOD: Maher is really relieved. He’s 
certainly happy to have his name finally cleared 
and to try to move on with his life. The inquiry, 
as you mentioned, it's been a two-year process. 
You know, the judge, commissioner looked at over 
20,000 documents. There were over 70 witnesses. 
There was in-camera testimony. He looked at all 
of the national security documents. And he 
basically found that, as you said, there was no 
evidence implicating Maher in terrorism. There 
had been a long investigation by law enforcement 
agencies here, and it actually even continued 
after Maher got back from Syria, and the 
investigation included U.S. cooperation. The 
justice said, the commissioner said that the U.S. 
never provided Canada with its own information to 
support that Maher had al-Qaeda ties and that it 
likely would have given the close cooperation if it had had it.

So all of this incorrect information, this 
inflammatory information that Canada provided to 
the U.S. was what was used in the U.S.'s 
designation of him as an al-Qaeda member and to 
send him to Syria to be tortured. Some of that 
information -- you know, first of all, the RCMP 
here gave information to the U.S. saying that 
Maher and his wife Monia were Islamic extremists 
with al-Qaeda ties. That was just false. Everyone 
-- I guess every witness that the inquiry 
interviewed said that that was false and that 
there was no reason to say that, no basis at all. 
There was evidence or there was statements given 
to the U.S. government saying that Maher was in 
the vicinity of Washington, D.C. on 9/11. That 
was false. They said that when they requested an 
interview with Maher, that he refused to be 
interviewed and suddenly left to Tunisia. That 
was patently false. So this is the information 
that the U.S. government used to determine that 
he was an al-Qaeda member and to send him to 
Syria to be tortured. And now, this is the 
information that they claim, I imagine, is a 
state secret, which prevents him from seeking 
justice in the United States for what they did to him.

AMY GOODMAN: I first interviewed Maher Arar in 
2003. It was November, just a few weeks after he 
was sent back to Canada from Syria. He described what happened to him there.

MAHER ARAR: Really, I mean, when I arrived there, 
I just couldn't believe it. I thought first it 
was a dream. I was crying all the time. I was 
disoriented. I wished I had something in my hand 
to kill myself, because I knew I was going to be 
tortured, and this was my preoccupation. That's 
all I was thinking about when I was on the plane. 
And I arrived there. I was crying all the time. 
So, one of them started questioning me, and the 
others were taking notes. And the first day it 
was mainly routine questions, between 8 to 12.
And the second day, that's when the beatings 
started, because, you know, on the first day they 
did not find anything strange about what I told 
them. And they started beating me with a cable, 
electrical threaded cable, and they would beat me 
for three, four times. They would stop again, and 
they would ask questions again, and they always 
kept telling me, “You are a liar,” and things 
like that. So, the beating continued for the 
first two weeks. The most -- the most intensive 
-- the intensive beating was really the first 
week, and then after that it was mostly slapping, 
punching on the face and kicking.
So, on the third day when they didn't find 
anything, third or fourth day, they -- in my 
view, they just wanted to please the Americans, 
and they had to find something on me. So, because 
I was accused of being an al-Qaeda member, which 
is nowadays synonymous with Afghanistan, they 
told me, “You've been to a training camp in 
Afghanistan.” And I said, “No.” And they started 
beating me. And I said -- well, I had no choice. 
I just wanted the beating to stop. I said, “Of 
course, I've been to Afghanistan.” I was ready to 
confess to anything just to stop the torture.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Maher Arar speaking to us 
in November of 2003 just after he had been 
released from the Syrian jail and was back in 
Canada. We spoke to him again just months ago, 
talking about the psychological effects of that 
year's detention. This is Maher Arar again.

MAHER ARAR: I’m completely a different person. I 
still have fears. I don't take the plane anymore. 
I don't fly. I lost confidence in myself. I feel 
overwhelmed. My -- there is some kind of 
emotional distancing between me and my kids and 
my family. They ruined my life. They ruined my 
life, and I have not been able to find a job. 
People try to -- you know, some people I know, 
they try to distance themselves from me. It's -- 
you know, I don't know how to describe it. I 
don't think there is any word I could use to 
describe what I am going through. And I thought 
when I came back it would take me a month or two 
months or a year or two years to get back to 
normal life. It’s been two years and four months 
since I came back to Canada, and there are things 
that are improved a little bit, but I’m still not 
the same person, and I’m still suffering psychologically.

AMY GOODMAN: That is Maher Arar, speaking to us 
in February of this year. This is years after his 
year detention in Syria, after he was tortured. 
He was sent there through the CIA's extraordinary 
rendition, as it is called. Maria LaHood is with 
us in Ottawa. She has been with Maher Arar. 
Maria, can you describe what it was like when the 
judge handed down his findings?

MARIA LAHOOD: Well, it was, you know -- these 
findings are over -- it’s three volumes and it’s 
over 1,200 or almost 1,200 pages. So, you know, 
we were given the reports to look through. So 
everyone was furiously trying to look for 
information. And, you know, we were all thrilled 
to see that Maher's name was cleared. There was 
some information in there that came out that was 
new information, like this false information that 
the RCMP gave the U.S. that was really troubling. 
There was also information that Maher’s -- you 
know, not only Maher’s wife was put on a list, 
but actually his children were put into 
intelligence databanks. You know, they are nine 
and four now. They were one years old and five 
years old before. And so, it was really troubling 
to see that, but really quite a relief and 
exciting to have a public inquiry in this 
country, to have people applauding Maher for the 
hero that he is, you know. Today it's on the 
front page of all the newspapers. It's amazing, 
especially in comparison to what happens in the 
U.S., where they still claim he's an al-Qaeda 
member and won't let anything be released.

AMY GOODMAN: The Ottawa Citizen reporter Juliet 
O’Neil, her home was broken into by the 
authorities in Canada. She was one of those who 
had reported on what happened to Maher Arar.

MARIA LAHOOD: Right. There was a lot -- a big 
part of the investigation has to do with what 
happened after Maher got back and the fact that 
there were government leaks. There was, you know, 
not only just government incompetence, but what 
seems to be, you know, an effort to ruin his 
reputation, to claim he wasn't tortured, to sort 
of stain his name. And I think that's the same 
thing that's being done in the U.S., basically. 
By keeping secrets and saying he's a member of 
al-Qaeda, you know, you can cast doubt on the 
unlawful atrocious behavior of the government. 
And I think that's what's been done.

But now, at least there is a clear record and a 
clear statement by the commission that Maher has 
been cleared. I mean, of course, these findings 
have to be accepted by the Canadian government, 
along with all the findings. I mean, you know, 
one of the findings is that the Canadian 
government should register its objections with 
the U.S. government for what happened to Maher, 
for how he was treated, like you said, for the 
fact they sent him to Syria despite his 
objection, despite the fact that he said he would 
be tortured, the fact that the U.S. officials 
were less than forthcoming with the Canadian 
officials about what they were going to do. They 
didn't let them know that Syria was an option 
until the day before they sent him. They breached 
the Vienna conventions on consular relations by 
not contacting the Canadian consulate for five 
days. These are all findings in the report.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, what happens now? I mean, 
you have the judge in the United States, David 
Trager, who wrote in response to your lawsuit, 
Maher Arar's lawsuit here in the United States, 
he wrote in the judgment, “One need not have much 
imagination to contemplate the negative effect on 
our relations with Canada if discovery were to 
proceed in this case and were it to turn out that 
certain high Canadian officials had, despite 
public denials, acquiesced in Arar’s removal to Syria.”

MARIA LAHOOD: Exactly. This commission finding 
completely alleviates that concern, by finding 
that Canadian officials were not complicit in 
Maher's detention in the United States or in his 
removal to Syria. I mean, the reason that the 
judge dismissed this case, he claimed that 
national security and foreign policy 
considerations precluded him from holding the 
federal officials liable, even if what they did 
violated customary international law and violated 
our treaties. And what you said, that was one of 
the reasons, that he was concerned about 
relations with Canada, because if it came out 
that Canadian officials were complicit. And this 
report says they are not complicit. They were not 
complicit in his rendition to Syria. I mean, I think another --

AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead.

MARIA LAHOOD: Okay. The other -- I mean, you 
know, even after -- I mean, we're appealing the 
dismissal now on these grounds, and we hope that 
that will be successful. I mean, we still face 
the government's state secrets assertion, which 
is where they say that the reason they deemed him 
a member of al-Qaeda is a state secret and the 
reason we sent him to Syria instead of Canada is 
a state secret. Well, here, we now know, you 
know, that it's very likely that the reason they 
deemed him an al-Qaeda member is this incorrect 
information from Canada. And the fact that more 
information has become public undermines the 
state secrets privilege, the fact that other 
governments are investigating this and the U.S. 
won't will hopefully put pressure, you know, 
pressure on the government to actually 
investigate, pressure to actually disclose 
information about what happened to Maher.

AMY GOODMAN: And in Canada right now, what about 
compensation for Maher Arar? His Canadian lawyer, 
Julian Falconer, saying they’re recommending some 
kind of compensation and Maher Arar's separate 
civil suit against police services and federal 
agencies. Is the government quietly negotiating 
with him right now upon the release that 
completely vindicates him of this report?

MARIA LAHOOD: Well, the commissioner did put in 
his recommendations that the government should 
assess Maher's claim for compensation, in light 
of his findings, and respond accordingly. So, you 
know, there will be, I’m sure, some discussions 
of how that's going to happen. It hasn't been decided yet how it will be done.

AMY GOODMAN: And any evaluation going on in the 
press of how the media was used by the government to smear, to tar Maher Arar?

MARIA LAHOOD: You know, I haven't seen that, but, 
you know, it's a very good point. And I think, 
you know, there were a lot of people who were 
complicit in what happened to Maher. It doesn't 
just stop with the high government officials. 
There were people in low-level positions in the 
INS. There were people in -- you know, there were 
the private jets. There were the people who 
didn’t get the information out. There were the 
people who got the misinformation out. And there 
are people that continue to be complicit in what 
happened to him. And hopefully, again, the more 
information that comes out, the more we will find 
out, and eventually I hope that Maher will be cleared in the U.S., as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Maria LaHood, I want to thank you 
for joining us from Vancouver. Maria LaHood is 
the attorney with the Center for Constitutional 
Rights representing Maher Arar, who has just been 
completely vindicated by a Canadian report. He 
had been the subject of what's called 
extraordinary rendition by the U.S. government, 
taken off a plane at Kennedy airport and sent off 
to Syria where he was tortured. When we come 
back, we'll be joined by the president of the 
Center for Constitutional Rights, Michael Ratner, 
to talk not only about this case, but what's 
going on in Washington, D.C. and the Republican 
revolt on the issue of torture.





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