Sunday, November 22, 2009

Arar's lawyer: Afghan torture a case of deja-vu.

The vicious attack by Peter MacKay on Richard Colvin is truly alarming. MacKay strikes me as worse than his Reform Party comrades. Not only is he a promise breaker but he tries to discredit a civil servant just for blowing the whistle. It is clear that the government did know that something was going on since they had already changed their practice after earlier complaints. That upper echelons had never heard about what was going on is completely incredible. There has obviously been tacit acceptance of the practice of torture but for the sake of expediency the reality has been ignored and then denied when it is revealed. This is from the Star.

Arar-case lawyer sees torture déjà vu
Afghans' rights record should have led officials to suspect prison abuse, Cavalluzzo concludesRichard J. Brennan

Afghanistan's widely criticized record on human rights should have been enough for Canadian officials to suspect detainees in Afghan prisons were being tortured, says Paul Cavalluzzo, the senior commission counsel at the Maher Arar inquiry.

"In light of the human rights record of Afghanistan, you would expect that officials would check it out either themselves or through non-governmental agencies like the Red Cross as to what may be occurring," Cavalluzzo told the Toronto Star Friday.

The Conservative government has steadfastly refused to acknowledge widespread torture in Afghan jails despite testimony this week from senior Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin, who said that while at the Canadian embassy in Afghanistan in 2006 he repeatedly warned senior government and military officials of allegations of physical and mental abuse.

Cavalluzzo, a respected Toronto lawyer, cited similarities between the Conservative government's hard-line position and Canada's role in the torture of Arar in a Syrian prison.

Arar, a Canadian citizen, was passing through New York on his way home to Ottawa from a vacation in Tunisia seven years ago when U.S. officials held him, wrongly accused him of links with Al Qaeda and sent him to Syria, where he was jailed for months and regularly beaten.

"I saw many similarities because his (Defence Minister Peter MacKay's) position seems to be that unless you see the torture occurring then you don't have proof of it. In one of the key lessons of the Arar report, the commissioner was critical of consular officials (in Syria) who basically said the same thing," Cavalluzzo said.

Dennis O'Connor, the associate chief justice of Ontario who headed the federal inquiry into the Arar affair, cleared the telecom engineer of terrorism allegations, and found the actions of Canadian officials likely led to his being deported by U.S. authorities to Syria.

In 2007, Arar received $10.5 million compensation from the federal government and an apology from Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

After Colvin reignited the Afghan torture controversy, Conservatives launched an all-out effort to discredit the 40-year-old diplomat, saying his allegations were based on hearsay and not first-hand knowledge.

"There was no credible evidence in Mr. Colvin's testimony, not a shred of specific evidence," said Transport Minister John Baird, who fielded questions on Afghan detainees in the House of Commons Friday.

Cavalluzzo said Canadian embassy officials in the Arar case also said they didn't suspect torture because they didn't see it happen.

Cavalluzzo said O'Connor found that "in situations like that you've got to be more analytical in the sense that you have to look at the human rights record of the country, the human rights records of the detention centre where the person is, and you make an educated decision.

"It seems in this instance that's what Mr. Colvin was doing. He didn't see it, obviously, but he recognized it and when he made these reports alarm bells should have rung in Ottawa and a thorough investigation should have occurred at that time. In my view, Colvin was acting quite appropriately ... because he has an obligation to bring it forward to his superiors."

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