Could Arar Blunder Happen Again?
- Could Arar Blunder Happen Again?
TORONTO, Oct 10, 2006 (IPS) - Washington's pre-emptive war, in which
Muslims are picked up, labeled as Islamic terrorists and then sent to
a foreign state where under torture they confess wrongly to membership
in al Qaeda, is at the heart of what happened to an innocent Canadian
citizen, Maher Arar, says Maureen Webb, an Ottawa lawyer and author of
the forthcoming book, "Illusions of Security".
Following the terrorist attacks of Sep. 11, 2001 and the signing of a
series of security agreements between Canada and the U.S. under the
former Liberal government, Canada's national police force, the Royal
Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), handed over its entire case file,
including unsubstantiated allegations on Canadian citizens, to U.S.
authorities, Webb told IPS.
"Without caveats, all of the junk as well as the good stuff, as well
as the comments, they sent their entire file to the FBI (Federal
Bureau of Investigation) and probably the CIA (Central Intelligence
Agency)," she said.
Telecommunications engineer Maher Arar was flying back from a vacation
in Tunisia in September 2002 when he was unknowingly caught in the
crosshairs of a new U.S.-led security regimen that was international
Upon arriving in New York on his way home to Canada, Arar was detained
by U.S. authorities and deported to his country of origin, Syria, a
country with a poor human rights record, even though he had a Canadian
passport -- a practice known as "extraordinary rendition".
After a year in jail in Damascus, he was subsequently released and
allowed to return home where he told the Canadian public that he had
been tortured and forced to make false confessions in order to avoid
ill treatment from his interrogators.
Although the U.S. government declined to send officials to appear
before the Canadian commission of inquiry into the Arar case, the
presiding judge, Dennis O'Connor, issued a critical report on Sep. 18
this year that placed much of the blame for his deportation to Syria
on the RCMP, which provided information to the U.S. that erroneously
accused Arar and his wife Dr. Monia Mazigh -- who was never arrested
or charged -- of terrorist links.
"I am able to say categorically that there is no evidence to indicate
that Mr. Arar has committed any offence or that his activities
constitute a threat to the security of Canada, O'Connor concluded.
The judge also indicated that Canadian police agencies relied on
information received from Syria about Arar "which was likely the
product of torture". He added that "no adequate reliability assessment
was done to determine whether the information resulted from torture."
Ten days later, at a parliamentary public safety and national security
committee meeting, RCMP commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli formally
apologised on behalf of his officers for the ordeal experienced by
Maher Arar and his family. He admitted that although he subsequently
realised that the force had mislabeled Arar as a terrorist after what
happened in New York, this information did not get passed along to the
Zaccardelli also stated his force was unable to find the sources of
several leaks from unknown RCMP officers to the press, who continued
to accuse Arar of terrorist links even after he had returned home to
The RCMP commissioner conceded that the authorities committed errors
amid the confusion following the Sep. 11 attacks and stated the force
was undertaking internal reforms.
"Of course, this doesn't excuse or allow us to avoid facing head-on
the ramifications of that time. But the fact is, we were in a very
different world on Sep. 12," he said.
The commissioner's defence has not lessened the calls for him to take
more responsibility for what happened to Arar, and even to resign, by
some newspaper editorial writers and opposition politicians.
"Also, no Mountie involved in this case has been disciplined. Some
have even been promoted," stated the Toronto Star in a recent editorial.
While Maureen Webb is not opposed to dismissals, she questions whether
this is sufficient.
"I think the focus on whether Zaccardelli should resign or not or be
fired is a little narrow, because certainly he should be fired, but I
think it minimises the situation. It is not just about one bad manager
or a few rogue officers, it is about a whole system," said Webb, who
is a lawyer at the Canadian Association of University Teachers.
"There is a falsity to say that there were rogue elements or that the
RCMP was the only agency -- that it was off the mark or incompetent,
because the marching orders and the climate came from the top
A recent internal FBI audit which found that U.S. agents have been
carrying out investigations within Canada since 9/11 without the
approval of Ottawa reinforces Webb's concerns that this country is
experiencing a serious loss of sovereignty to the larger power below.
She says that security has replaced trade as the "driver" for deep
integration of Canada and the U.S. within North America.
"[The Canadian] government likes to spin it as information sharing,
and who can argue with information sharing, it sounds like a good
thing, but in fact what's happened in these cases is much worse than
information sharing," she said.
What occurred in Canada in terms of U.S. intervention is comparatively
mild compared to the secret U.S. special operations or "assassination
teams" which are busy hunting down alleged terrorists in countries
like the Philippines, she added.
"The war on terror has been a pretext for them to come back again
[after a U.S. military withdrawal from the Philippines]," Webb added.
"The U.S. military is doing ordinary police functions in the
Philippines and it doesn't even have a status of forces agreement."
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