“These Three Men Were Sacrificed To Show The United States That Canada Was Doing Something”

A Canadian inquiry has determined that false and inflammatory information passed by Canadian officials to the United States contributed to the detention and torture of three Canadian men in Syria.

Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad Abou-Elmaati, and Muayyed Nureddin, Canadian citizens all, were arrested while visiting Syria, then imprisoned and tortured there as suspected “Islamic extremists,” “terrorists,” “Al Qaeda procurement officers,” and the like.

The Syrians acted upon information provided by the United States, some of it originating in Canada. The Canadian information, the inquiry concluded, was in the main unsupported by evidence; in some instances, the “evidence” concerned entirely different people.

Although the Canadian inquiry was not assigned to review the actions of the three men, the head of the inquiry, former Canadian Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci, announced at a press conference Tuesday that the three men were innocent of any wrongdoing.

James Kafieh, a lawyer involved in the inquiry, bluntly concluded that “these three men were sacrificed to show the United States that Canada was doing something.”

Abou-Elmaati, Almalki, and Nureddin, born in Kuwait, Syria, and Iraq respectively, were arrested by Syrian military intelligence officials at various times between 2001 and 2003. All were released in early 2004 without the filing of charges. All, the inquiry concluded, were tortured and held under “inhumane” conditions.

The inquiry attempts a bit of a dodge. It concedes that Canada must accept “indirect” responsibility for the infliction of torture, but absolves the nation of any “direct” role, while meanwhile maintaining that individual Canadian officials were at all times attempting to act “conscientiously”:

Iacobucci found that Canadian officials did not have direct responsibility for detention or abuse “that amounted to torture, as that term is defined in the UN Convention Against Torture,” said a statement announcing release of the inquiry’s findings.

But he found that “mistreatment resulted indirectly” from actions taken by Canadian intelligence agencies and federal police, including information sharing and in some cases “deficiencies” of consular service provided to the men.

“I found no evidence that any of these officials were seeking to do anything other than carry out conscientiously the duties and responsibilities of the institutions of which they were a part,” the judge said.

“It is neither necessary nor appropriate that I make findings concerning the actions of any individual Canadian official, and I have not done so.

Perhaps it is cynical to surmise that this fudging is prompted at least in part by a desire to avoid providing evidentiary aid to the lawsuits filed by the three men against the Canadian government. A suit against that same government filed by Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian citizen who, with Canadian complicity, was rendered from the US to Syria and there tortured, was settled last year with the payment to Arar of $10.5 million in Canadian dollars.

Abou-Elmaati had flown to Syria to celebrate his wedding when he was seized at the Damascus airport in November 2001. Almalki was also detained in Damascus, in May 2002, while traveling to visit family in Syria. Nureddin was en route to visit family in northern Iraq when he was stopped at the Iraqi-Syrian border in December 2003.

The earlier, more extensive Arar inquiry revealed that, when they left Canada, both Almalki and Abou-Elmaati were under intense investigation by Canadian authorities. Both men have said they felt “so hounded by those agencies that we eventually left the country”; they contend this government harassment “set[] up what we believe was an ‘opportunistic rendition to torture.'”

In the cases of all three men, the inquiry “confirmed a longstanding contention by the three men that Canada had tipped the United States to their travel plans.”

In Mr. Elmaati’s case, Mr. Iacobucci concluded that the detention resulted from three events: the Mounted Police advised several foreign legal authorities, including those in the United States, that the man was “an imminent threat to public safety”; the Canadian intelligence agency told its American counterparts and others that the man was an associate of an aide to Osama Bin Laden; and the Canadian police gave the CIA and the FBI his travel itinerary.

The Mounties, Mr. Iacobucci wrote, “should have considered, before providing Mr. Elmaati’s travel itinerary to the US, that U.S. authorities might take steps to have Mr. Elmaati detained and questioned.”

Under Syrian torture, Abou-Elmaati was forced to sign a “confession” he neither wrote nor was allowed to read. To end his torture, he had lied that he had conspired to detonate a truck of explosives on Canada’s Parliament Hill. This false confession was used to justify further arrest warrants executed in Canada.

Among the “evidence” that was pressed via torture upon About-Elmaati to coerce him to confess to “terrorism” was “a map [that] had been found in his truck, which highlighted several government buildings in Ottawa. It later came to light the document was a tourist map.”

As for Almalki:

the report indicates that in October 2001, the Mounties told the United States Customs Service in a letter that he was an “Islamic extremist individual suspected of being linked to the Al Qaeda terrorist movement.”

The inquiry, however, found that this claim—and similar information given to agencies in the United States about the other men—was largely based on secondhand information. In Mr. Almalki’s case, some of it referred to another person.

The Canadian suspicion about Mr. Almalki seems to have come from his business, which involved exporting common, and in some cases obsolete, electronic components to Pakistan.

The Mounties met in 2002 with the FBI and members of other US intelligence agencies, at which time they presented a PowerPoint presentation titled, “The Pursuit of Terrorism: A Canadian Response.” This presentation, the inquiry concludes, was intended to spark US interest in Almalki, whom the Canadians identified—falsely—as a “procurement officer” for terrorists.

“Labeling of someone at a time when 9/11 was sort of recent can be a very serious matter,” Iacobucci said Tuesday, in something of an understatement.

Almaki subsequently spent 22 months in Syrian custody. After undergoing torture that all these unfortunate Canadians agree was the worst inflicted upon any of them (it included repeatedly whipping him with cables until he passed out), he was cleared by the Syrian authorities of any suspicion of wrongdoing, and released.

By the time Nureddin was detained in December 2003, his fellow Canadian Maher Arar had already convened a press conference to announce he had been tortured while in Syrian custody.

Nureddin spent 34 days imprisoned in Syria, during which he says he was asked the identical questions that had earlier been presented upon him—in a decidedly milder manner–by Canadian officials.

None of the three men are pleased that the inquiry was conducted in secret, nor that they were not permitted to review the evidence. They were prevented even from reading the final submissions of their own lawyers.

The Globe and Mail, though a pretty conservative outfit, is fairly grumpy, too. From its Tuesday editorial:

To Canadians familiar with the Maher Arar story, it should come as no surprise that Canada was willing to sell out its citizens of Arab descent who fell under suspicion during the tense months after Sept. 11, 2001. Mr. Arar was not alone in being tortured in Syria, with Canada’s connivance. In three other cases probed in detail by former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci, much the same pattern emerges . . . .

In Mr. Arar’s case, [Canada] passed on inflammatory and unfounded accusations to the United States. Then, after the U.S. shipped Mr. Arar to a Syrian torture cell, the RCMP did what it could to block his release by sending questions through the Canadian Embassy in Damascus to his interrogators. The same pattern—passing on flawed information from foreign intelligence agencies, turning a blind eye to the possibility of torture in Syria (and in one case, Egypt) and indirectly contributing to mistreatment by furnishing questions to Syrian Military Intelligence—appears with these three men.

Canada’s foreign affairs establishment was not so naive as to be unaware what was happening. These Canadians were in the cells of a known torture state, and suffered worse torture than Mr. Arar. (Mr. Arar, in his first public statement on his return from Syria, spoke of his horror at what Mr. Almalki endured.) Mr. Almalki was forced into a car tire and beaten on his head, genitals and the soles of his feet. Canada pretended that, because it was not doing the torture, it could wash its hands of any responsibility (Mr. Elmaati didn’t even receive a consular visit in his two months in Syrian detention), while at the same time benefiting from any fruits of that torture.

This connivance in the torture of some of its Arab-Canadian citizens is now, thanks to Mr. Iacobucci and Mr. Justice Dennis O’Connor before him, a matter of historical record. It should be deeply regretted.

The United States declined to cooperate in the Canadian inquiry.

Declining too to cooperate was Syria.

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