Friday, August 17, 2007

Uncensored Arar report faults CSIS

JANICE TIBBETTS, CanWest News Service-

Friday, August 10

OTTAWA - Canadian security officials suspected that Maher Arar would be questioned "in a firm manner" when the United States deported the Ottawa engineer to his birth country of Syria, newly declassified portions of an investigative report into the incident revealed yesterday.

"I think the U.S. would like to get Arar to Jordan, where they can have their way with him," Jack Hooper, assistant director of operations for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, wrote in a memo described in newly disclosed passages of the Arar report.

A censored version of the report by a commission of inquiry headed by Justice Dennis O'Connor was published last September.

Because of its blacked-out passages, the initial version appeared to put the lion's share of blame on the RCMP, while CSIS escaped virtually unscathed.

Last month, the Federal Court ordered that more of the information be disclosed, ruling that it would be in the public's interest and not harmful to the country.

Suspected of terrorist ties, Arar was flown to Jordan and from there to Syria, where he was imprisoned for a year and tortured before being released and returned to Canada.

O'Connor's report cleared him of all terrorist links.

The newly uncensored passages also reveal that the CSIS security liaison officer in Washington, in a memo to his superiors two days after Arar's deportation, "spoke of a trend they had noted lately when the CIA or FBI cannot legally hold a terrorist suspect, or wish a target questioned in a firm manner, they have them rendered to countries willing to fulfil that role."

Arar, he said, was "a case in point."

The original version of the report deleted mention of the CIA and the FBI.

Arar's lawyer, Lorne Waldman, described the declassified sections as "shocking and disturbing."

He accused the government of abuse of power for trying to shield information from the public for a year in the name of national security.

"What we're really seeing is the government withholding information because it is embarrassing," Waldman said.

The more complete report also reveals that a Canadian security team, which visited Syria in November 2002, concluded that officials there "did not appear to view this as a major case and seemed to look upon the matter as more of a nuisance than anything else."

CSIS spokesperson Giovanni Cotroneo refused comment on the new revelations. He stressed, however, that the report concluded that the security officials neither participated nor acquiesced in the U.S. decision to send Arar to Syria.

The new version also places more blame on the Mounties, revealing that an RCMP anti-terrorism squad, in seeking search warrants in early 2002, failed to reveal to the presiding judge that the information came from an unnamed country with a poor human rights record or that it may have been obtained through torture.

In September 2002, the Mounties also kept a judge in the dark while seeking a warrant to wiretap Arar's phone, failing to mention that their information came from an uncorroborated confession by terror suspect Ahmad El Maati, which was likely obtained under torture in Syria.

"The candour was lacking and that's very significant because we rely on our agencies, when dealing with national security investigations, to be truthful when seeking warrants," Waldman said.

Waldman called on the federal government to immediately implement the Arar report recommendation to set up two independent oversight bodies to monitor the RCMP, CSIS and other agencies involved in national security.

Although the censored information represents less than one per cent of the 1,200-page report, Paul Cavalluzzo, the Arar commission lawyer, said the issue goes to the heart of government accountability.

He denounced the RCMP's failure to disclose information in court, in particular, as an affront to the justice system because applications for national security warrants take place in a closed courtroom with a judge only hearing the government's side before making a decision.

Arar was arrested by U.S. authorities in September 2002 while travelling through New York on his way back to Canada from a vacation in Tunisia.

The report concluded that his deportation was "very likely" the result of an inexperienced RCMP anti-terrorism squad passing on false intelligence to the U.S. that labelled Arar and his wife "Islamic extremists."

Former RCMP commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli was forced to resign in the wake of the Arar report after he publicly changed his story on what he knew and when he knew it.

Arar was given a formal apology from the federal government this year, along with $10.5 million in compensation for his ordeal.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said yesterday it is up to Liberal leader Stéphane Dion to explain the Arar affair to the public.

"Let's be clear - we're talking about events that occurred under the previous government," Harper told reporters in Yellowknife. "So I would suggest to you that in terms of asking what actually happened, those questions would be best directed to Mr. Dion."

Harper added that Arar has been compensated for his ordeal and reiterated that the government intends to implement all the recommendations in the Arar report.