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Could Arar Blunder Happen Again?

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    Could Arar Blunder Happen Again? Paul Weinberg http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=35056 TORONTO, Oct 10, 2006 (IPS) - Washington s pre-emptive war, in
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      Could Arar Blunder Happen Again?
      Paul Weinberg
      http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=35056


      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
      in scope.

      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
      Canadian government.

      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
      Canada.

      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
      political levels."

      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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