Saturday, May 26, 2007

Iacobucci Inquiry: The government's national security dodge

While Iacobucci has not ruled as yet it is clear that most of the inquiry will not be in public. The only public hearings so far have been on who would get standing and on process and scope questions. It is almost a month since the last hearings and there has been absolute silence from the Inquiry website.
Even what Iacobucci has said makes it clear that it is not a public inquiry but what the website itself calls an internal inquiry. It would not surprise me one bit if most of the inquiry is in secret. It remains to be seen if lawyers for the three will even be allowed into the closed sessions. One Arar inquiry a century is more than enough for any government even though it resulted in no one being reprimanded and no attempt to hold those responsible for mistakes (and many of the mistakes were probably not mistakes at all) to be held to account. National security dodges in official newspeak are national security interests that of course protect us against terrorists and enable us to sleep soundly.

National security dodge goes on, even after Arar

Ottawa trying to muzzle inquiry into more torture cases

May 26, 2007 04:30 AM
Thomas Walkom

When Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered a full and formal apology to Maher Arar this year for Canada's role in his torture, it seemed as if this particularly unsavoury episode had finally been put to rest.

It had not. The Arar story, chilling enough on its own, is just the most well-documented part of a larger and more disturbing pattern that – on the face of it – appears to detail Canada's deliberate complicity in the torture of Canadian citizens.

And if the federal government has its way, that fuller story will never be publicly revealed.

It's been five months since Harper set up a judicial inquiry into Canada's role in the torture abroad of Canadian citizens Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El Maati and Muayyed Nureddin.

But since then his government has spent its time strenuously arguing before former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci that he should hold virtually all sessions of his "public" inquiry in secret, with even the three men and their lawyers excluded.

The reason cited is national security.

National embarrassment might be closer to the truth. The judicial inquiry into Arar revealed Canada's security agencies – particularly the RCMP – as both immoral and incompetent.

The exhaustive three-volume report of that inquiry detailed how an innocent man, through no fault of his own, became ensnared in a web of innuendo and falsehood.

It was a web that triggered his 2002 arrest in New York and, ultimately, his removal to Syria for torture and almost a year of imprisonment.

Arar has still not recovered his life.

But what's worse is that his case was not unique. Almalki spent one year and 10 months in a Syrian jail. For El Maati, the penalty for running afoul of Canadian security services was two years and two months in Syrian and Egyptian jails. Nureddin, comparatively lucky, got out after only 34 days in a Syrian dungeon.

The Arar inquiry, which looked tangentially at their cases, concluded that all three had been brutally tortured by jailers determined to wrest information about alleged terrorist connections.

All were interrogated on the basis of information that could have only originated with the RCMP or the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

Indeed, the Arar inquiry found that after Almalki had been imprisoned in Syria, delighted Mounties sent his torturers a list of questions they wanted him to answer.

In the end, none of the three Muslim-Canadians was ever charged by any government with any crime.

It seems that the security agencies' interest in the threesome was piqued for a variety of reasons, not all of them illegitimate.

In the early '90s, Almalki worked in Afghanistan and Pakistan for Human Concern International, a still-extant Canadian charity that at the time employed Ahmad Said Khadr as its South Asian director.

Khadr, as it turned out, was also an associate of Osama bin Laden. So, it is not unreasonable that CSIS might want to know what, if anything, Almalki knew about the Al Qaeda chief.

Later, Almalki's company supplied walkie-talkies to the Pakistani army that eventually ended up in the hands of Afghanistan's Taliban government. Given that Pakistan openly supported and supplied the Taliban before 9/11, this in itself is not remarkable. But one can see why CSIS was interested.

El Maati, a truck driver, had been flagged by U.S. border authorities in 2001 for possessing a map of Ottawa that noted the location of so-called sensitive buildings. This may explain CSIS' interest in him, although if the agency had bothered to do what Globe And Mail reporter Jeff Sallot did one afternoon four years later, they would have discovered that this map is routinely handed out by government commissionaires to anyone who asks.

El Maati's brother Amr also ended up on the FBI's terrorist list. But that happened while Ahmad was being interrogated and tortured in Syria – which suggests the troubling possibility of evidence being produced under coercion to justify that coercion.

Indeed, the problem with these cases has nothing to do with the questions asked by CSIS or the RCMP. Rather, it has to do with the lengths to which they were willing to have their Syrian and Egyptian friends go to get the preconceived answers they wanted.

Or, at least, that's the way it seems.

But we won't know for sure unless the government eases up and lets Iacobucci conduct a public inquiry that is actually public. He's expected to rule on that question as early as next week.

With luck, he won't fall for the government's now discredited national security wheeze.


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