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Gitmo North's Last Prisoner in Limbo After 6 Years

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    Gitmo North s Last Prisoner in Limbo After 6 Years by Michelle Shephard The Toronto Star http://www.thestar.com/News/article/253291 September 5, 2007 BATH,
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 6, 2007
      Gitmo North's Last Prisoner in Limbo After 6 Years
      by Michelle Shephard
      The Toronto Star
      September 5, 2007

      BATH, Ont.– Hassan Almrei strolls from his cell wearing a pressed
      cream shirt, dress pants and polished black shoes. If not for the
      barbed wire behind him, the 33-year-old Syrian could be on his way
      to a corporate board meeting, not an interview with a journalist
      as the remaining detainee in a prison dubbed "Guantanamo North."

      Almrei has fought a series of public and legal battles to get to
      this point. Over the six years of his detention he has stopped
      eating, sometimes for weeks at a time, to pressure the government
      to grant him privileges like wearing a watch, or stopping the
      daily strip searches.

      "I don't think I should have to go through nine or 10 hunger
      strikes while I'm in prison to know what time it is, to have shoes
      on my feet," he said during an interview with the Toronto Star
      inside the prison.

      Last summer, he was able to make his first phone call to relatives
      in Saudi Arabia. "I haven't been able to call them for years. I
      had to go on a hunger strike just to call my mom and tell her,
      `Look, I'm alive'. "

      There are no other prisoners in the $3.2 million specially
      designed prison on the grounds of Millhaven's maximum-security
      penitentiary near Kingston – only Almrei, who was arrested one
      month after the 9/11 attacks for alleged connections to Al Qaeda.
      He has never been charged with a criminal offence. Four other
      suspects were released on stringent conditions.

      A bail decision is pending any day now for Almrei, who came to
      Canada from Saudi Arabia in 1999 as a landed immigrant and ran an
      unsuccessful pita restaurant in Yorkville before his arrest.

      But he faces one obstacle in his release that the other suspects
      didn't have. Almrei is not married, nor does he have any family in
      Canada. That means despite support he has received from a number
      of high-profile Canadians, and his willingness to wear a GPS
      monitoring bracelet, he can't offer the security of a
      24-hour-a-day supervisor.

      When the Kingston Immigration Holding Centre opened last year,
      Almrei's supporters called it Guantanamo North. But Almrei himself
      is quick to note the differences between his confinement and the
      imprisonment of 355 terrorism suspects at the U.S. base in
      southeastern Cuba. "It's a million times different than Guantanamo
      Bay, of course it is, and you know what, I'm lucky to be detained
      in this country. I'm not denying that. (But) they're not talking
      about the colour of the clothes, it's the principle. The principle
      of Guantanamo Bay."

      And like the legal quagmire that is Guantanamo, there is no
      foreseeable end to Almrei's case.

      Six months ago, the Supreme Court stuck down key provisions of the
      immigration law that keeps him behind bars. National security
      certificates had been used in rare cases to deport non-citizens
      deemed a risk to Canada. But the court ruled the law was
      unconstitutional because it allows the government to rely on
      secret evidence from Canada's spy service, without giving
      defendants a chance to refute the allegations. Parliament was
      given a year to amend the law before it's declared invalid.

      If Almrei's most recent attempt to get bail is denied, he'll
      remain in prison until Parliament enacts a new law – and he could
      again face deportation under the new system.

      Hanging over the proceedings is the unresolved question as to
      whether Canada will knowingly deport non-citizens to face torture
      in their home countries. All five of the men – from Syria, Egypt,
      Morocco and Algeria – say they will be tortured or killed if
      returned, and in some instances the Canadian government has agreed
      that's likely.

      A 2002 Supreme Court decision ruled deportations could occur only
      in "exceptional circumstances," but did not elaborate. That
      question is expected to again go before the Supreme Court, which
      means months, if not years more before the issue is decided.

      "After six years in prison without being charged with any single
      crime, I think the Canadian people, the Canadian public, should
      come to the conclusion themselves ... that after all these years,
      they cannot come (up) with one single ... real crime to show the
      public this is dangerous to the public," Almrei said. "I think the
      public should say enough is enough, that's it."

      In a July bail hearing, a spy with the Canadian Security
      Intelligence Service said the government believes Almrei supports
      Al Qaeda's ideology and there is classified evidence that proves
      it. "The Service's position is we are not willing to take a chance
      with this person being out unsupervised and free to resume his
      activities, given that we have no evidence that he has shed his
      prior beliefs," the agent testified.

      While disillusioned by the federal government, Almrei said he has
      only grown to love his adopted country more during his incarceration.

      "Even though I'm in jail now, people may think I have some anger,
      or sorry I came to this country, (but) even if I knew before I
      came this is what would happen to me, I still would have come to
      this country. Why? After all these years behind bars I came to
      know many, many Canadian people, which I really have respect and
      admiration for them. I feel it's worth it."

      Almrei checks his new watch. The 90 minutes are done. He saunters
      back to his cell for another day behind bars.



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