It remains to be seen how much the public will be allowed to see of the evidence against the three. From the nature of the inquiry it seems unlikely that there will be all that much done in public. The lawyers for the three may not even see much of the evidence on national security grounds. This often means that it would be counter to national security to reveal the incompetence of our intelligence persons.
Inquiry into torture of three Cdns. to begin
Updated Sun. Mar. 18 2007 2:16 PM ET
OTTAWA -- Canadians will finally get a glimpse of how former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci plans to proceed in his investigation into the detention and torture abroad of three Canadians accused of terrorist ties.
It can't come soon enough for supporters of Abdullah Almalki, Ahmed El Maati and Muayyed Nureddin, all of whom believe the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the RCMP played a part in their mistreatment in Syria and Egypt.
Their stories bear striking similarities to the more highly publicized ordeal of Maher Arar -- prompting charges by human rights groups that Ottawa is deliberately farming out the interrogation of suspects to regimes with a history of abusing prisoners.
Iacobucci was appointed in December to probe the actions of CSIS, the Mounties and the Foreign Affairs Department, under a mandate conferred by Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day.
The official business at the first public session of the inquiry Wednesday will be to hear submissions from lawyers for the three men, along with any other interested parties who want a voice in the investigation.
More revealing, however, may be the opening statement by Iacobucci, who's expected to outline how he plans to sort out the affair, how long it will take, and how he hopes to preserve the credibility of a process that will take place mostly behind closed doors.
"He's determined that this will be an independent inquiry, the results of which will make the public confident that he's gotten to the bottom of it,'' says John Laskin, the chief counsel for the commission.
"We're very much committed to doing something credible and fair and thorough.''
But it appears the public may have to take Iacobucci's word for that, since much of the documentation and oral testimony will be dealt with in private for national security reasons.
The inquiry's terms of reference do allow the judge to hold public sessions if he deems them "essential'' to carry out his mandate. But Laskin admits most of the work will be "presumptively private,'' and that worries counsel for the three complainants.
"The question is, will we actually get to see any of the evidence and test some of it,'' says Paul Copeland, the lawyer for Almalki.
"They've spent at least nine years now investigating Mr. Almalki, first CSIS and then the RCMP. No charges were ever laid (but) they labelled him, in a variety of the investigations, as high-level al-Qaida. They have branded him in a way that's terrible.''
Almalki, an Ottawa electronics engineer, was first interviewed by CSIS in 1998 and had his file turned over to the RCMP following the 9/11 attacks in the United States in the fall of 2001. He's had his house searched and been targeted for wiretaps and electronic surveillance.
The original interest by CSIS related to communications equipment allegedly shipped by Almalki's export firm to Islamic insurgents in Afghanistan. He says the equipment was intended for sale to the Pakistani military.
Almalki was also of interest to investigators because he once worked for a charitable organization run by Omar Said Khadr, a Canadian citizen identified, before his death in a shootout with Pakistani troops, as a key aide to al-Qaida founder Osama bin Laden. Almalki says he didn't like Khadr and quit the charity after a short stint.
Nevertheless, he became the main target of an RCMP counter-terrorist investigation known as Project A-O Canada -- the same operation that fingered fellow Ottawa resident Maher Arar, who was subsequently arrested by U.S. authorities and deported to face torture in Syria.
Arar's name was cleared last year by another inquiry headed by Justice Dennis O'Connor, who found he was the victim of misleading information passed to the Americans by the Mounties.
Almalki was arrested by Syrian authorities on a visit to Damascus in 2002 just a few months before Arar's imprisonment. He says he was tortured repeatedly during his 20 months in jail, only to be released without charge in the end.
El Maati, a Toronto truck driver, was also a target of both CSIS and the RCMP for several years before his arrest on a trip to Syria in late 2001. He was later transferred to Egypt and says he was tortured in both countries -- at one point signing a false confession of a non-existent plot to attack the Parliament buildings in Ottawa.
El Maati, who like Almalki was eventually freed without charge and returned to Canada, has admitted he was once an ambulance driver for Afghan insurgents, but that was during Soviet occupation of the country.
His brother Amer has been identified by U.S. authorities as an al-Qaida operative suspected of plotting a plane hijacking that never materialized. El Maati says he hasn't seen his brother in years, and the rest of the family in Toronto has also lost contact with him.
Nureddin, a Toronto geologist, spent 34 days in custody in Damascus in December 2001 and January 2002 after being arrested as he crossed the border from Iraq to Syria.
He had been the principal of an Islamic school in Toronto that was under CSIS surveillance, and had been questioned by the security service before leaving Canada. He says he was asked the same kind of questions -- under torture -- during his captivity in Damascus.
His lawyer, Barbara Jackman, who also represents El Maati, says she's mystified about why Canadian investigators were so interested in Nureddin, especially since their questions to him mainly focused on what he knew about others, not on his own activities.
"In some ways it's one of the most egregious cases,''Jackman said when the inquiry was called. "There doesn't appear to be any real justification for any concern about him.''