Sunday, October 19, 2008

Inside Canada's secret inquiry

This is from the Ottawa Citizen.
The Iacobbuci Inquiry into the cases of three Canadian Muslims tortured in Syria is to report to the government on Monday but it may be a few days before the report is released to the public. I think it is significant that it was not released before the election. The subsequent furor could have influenced the outcome perhaps. In spite of the secrecy of the report I expect that there will be some criticism of Canadian officials. As in the Arar report there will be no action taken against anyone. Perhaps as in the Arar affair some of them may even be promoted. There will be no help for the three in whose name the inquiry was undertaken in clearing their name. In fact the three involved had little role in the inquiry and were given no clue as to what the evidence was against them and they probably never will be. The government is not about to face another inquiry of the sort that Arar had. Revealing the incompetence of intelligence operatives and having to pay compensation for bad treatment is not something the government wishes to continually face!
After this report there will be a flurry of publicity but then Iacobucci can collect his fat fee and everything will go back to the way it was and Almalki, El-Maati, and Nurredin will have to continue to fight to try to clear their names and get any compensation from the government.

Inside Canada's 'secret' inquiry
The Ottawa Citizen
Saturday, October 18, 2008
CREDIT: Bruno Schlumberger, the Ottawa Citizen
'I think secrecy is the enemy of democracy,' says Abdullah Almalki, 37, an Ottawa father of six and a Carleton University engineering grad who endured 22 months in Syrian jails.
On Monday, the report into the treatment of three Arab-Canadian men who were detained and tortured in a Syrian jail is expected to be handed into the government.
The commission was conducted behind closed doors, and as Andrew Duffy reports, that is leaving a bitter taste in the mouths of the men at the centre of this review.
During Justice Dennis O'Connor's inquiry into the Maher Arar case, he heard startling evidence about three other Arab-Canadians who were similarly detained and tortured in Syria.
In his report, Judge O'Connor concluded that what happened to Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El-Maati and Muayyed Nureddin raised troubling questions when considered alongside Mr. Arar's experience.
The four Canadian citizens had all been detained and tortured in the same Damascus military prison. All four were under investigation by the RCMP or CSIS at the time for alleged terrorist connections.
Judge O'Connor said that while it was "most unlikely" that Canadian officials had a policy of using foreign agencies to further national security probes at home, the cases nonetheless displayed a "pattern of investigative practices" that pointed to systemic problems.
Those problems, he said, went beyond Mr. Arar's case and needed to be addressed.
"I have heard enough evidence about the cases of Messrs. Almalki, El-Maati and Nureddin to observe that these cases should be reviewed," the judge wrote in September, 2006. He called for a second inquiry to fully investigate.
More than two years later, the federal inquiry that the Arar commission inspired is about to report its findings. Retired Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci will deliver his report to the federal government on Monday; it is expected to be made public later in the week.
But human rights groups -- and the three men themselves -- yesterday denounced the secretive process employed by Mr. Iacobucci and called for it never to be used again.
"The secrecy was not limited to national security concerns: it extended to everything," said Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada. "That is virtually unprecedented in Canada and undermined fairness and the public interest from the very outset."
The Iacobucci inquiry has been marked by controversy.
One intervenor, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, withdrew from the inquiry in December 2007 to protest what it said was a "dangerous precedent for closed-door, secret inquiries."
The inquiry interviewed 40 witnesses in-camera and collected 40,000 documents. None of the documents were released to the public and none of the witnesses were cross-examined by lawyers for the three men. Even the witness list remains confidential.
The three men testified about their experiences with torture, but they were not allowed to read the final submissions delivered by their own lawyers -- in case Mr. Iacobucci decided to recall them as witnesses.
The men say they've been treated as outcasts by an inquiry that is supposed to discover the extent of the Canadian complicity in their torture.
"It is a strange and alarming process," said Mr. Almalki, 37, an Ottawa father of six and a Carleton University engineering graduate who endured 22 months in Syrian jails.
Mr. Almalki was repeatedly interrogated and tortured, he said, based on information that could only have originated with Canadian security agencies.
The Arar report has confirmed that the RCMP sent questions to the Syrians to be put to Mr. Almalki. But he contends that Canadian officials continued to pass information to the Syrians even after Mr. Arar warned the federal government that the Syrians were torturing detainees.
Mr. Almalki said the inquiry's secrecy has frustrated his ability to test the truth of what government officials have said about him, his alleged terrorist connections and what happened to him in Syria.
"I think secrecy is the enemy of democracy," said Mr. Almalki, who has repeatedly denied any connection to al-Qaeda.
Mr. El-Maati, a Toronto truck driver who was held in Syria and Egypt for more than two years, told reporters yesterday that the process has inspired no confidence: "How can we trust the findings of an inquiry that has only heard one side of the story?"
Mr. Iacobucci has defended the secretive process as necessary to fulfil his mandate. His terms of reference emphasized "the internal or private nature" of the inquiry, Mr. Iacobucci has said, and the need to protect national security information.
Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day created the inquiry in December 2006 to examine the actions of Canadian officials that may have led to the detention and mistreatment of the three men.
The internal inquiry was in keeping with Mr. O'Connor's opinion that public inquiries into national security cases can be "time-consuming and expensive" exercises. The Arar inquiry included protracted legal argument about what information had to be shielded for the sake of national security.
But Mr. Almalki's lawyer, Jasminka Kalajdzic, said Mr. Iacobucci's mandate did not require complete secrecy. That approach, she said, was ultimately for the sake of expediency, not national security.
"In the more than 400 inquiries convened in our country since Confederation," she said, "this is the only one where the public has been excluded for reasons other than national security confidentiality."
Mr. Neve said the inquiry went "terribly wrong" from the start with a mandate that made it chiefly about Canadian officials. It meant, he said, that the inquiry functioned as if it was not about the men named in its title and so afforded them few legal rights.
In her new book, Dark Days, Ottawa human rights activist Kerry Pither contends that the three men were imprisoned in Syria because of an orchestrated campaign by Canadian security agencies to neutralize people they wrongly believed to be terrorist threats. To be credible, she said, the Iacobucci inquiry must tell Canadians why the men were labelled Islamic extremists.
"Because how they were labelled in communications with the media and with foreign governments would most certainly have had an impact on the decision to detain in Syria, the length of their detention and how they were treated," she said. "It would also have an impact on Canadian officials and how hard they worked for their release."
For his part, Mr. Almalki has a list of 30 questions he wants answered by the inquiry. Among them: Who sent information about him to the Syrians and why? Why did Canadian diplomats and security agents meet with Syrian military intelligence, the organization responsible for his torture? Why did no Canadian Embassy officials visit him while he was in Sryian custody?
Mr. Almalki said there remains, too, a basic question about the role of Canadian officials: "Is it that they didn't care I would be tortured or did they want me to be tortured?"
© The Ottawa Citizen 2008

No comments: