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In blow to Bush ‘renditions’

Canada to pay torture victim $9M

Published Feb 2, 2007 10:57 PM

At last there has been an official repudiation of Washington’s policy of “extraordinary rendition”—capturing people and sending them to other countries to be tortured. This blow to the Bush regime comes not from the U.S. but from Canada, however.

The Canadian government has admitted that it acted illegally when it cooperated with Washington in the deportation of a Canadian to Syria, where he was tortured and imprisoned for nearly a year.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Jan. 26 publicly apologized to Maher Arar, a 36-year-old software engineer born in Syria, and his family. Harper announced that Arar would be compensated $8.9 million for Ottawa’s role in allowing the U.S. to deport him.  

The compensation follows a judicial finding that Canadian police had falsely accused Arar of being an Islamic extremist linked to al-Qaeda.  The compensation is the highest in Canadian history and the first relating to the torture of a citizen overseas. (Globe and Mail, Jan. 26)

While traveling to Montreal from Tunisia on a Canadian passport, Arar was detained by U.S. authorities at New York’s JFK airport on Sept. 26, 2002.  He was chained and shackled by U.S. authorities for 11 days of interrogation and told he would not be admitted to the U.S.

A week later a Canadian consular officer visited Arar and said he thought he would be returned to Canada.  However, four days later Arar was deported to Syria, where he was housed in a three-by-six-foot cell, interrogated and tortured over several months until he confessed—falsely—to terrorist training in Afghanistan. Although he was visited on occasion by the Canadian consul, the ambassador and visiting members of Parliament, it was never in private and he was afraid to talk freely.

After much public pressure, his case was investigated in Canada. In October 2003 he was freed by the U.S. and returned home. Finally, three years later on Sept. 18, 2006, he was exonerated of any wrongdoing.  

The Canadian inquiry found that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police investigators had given inaccurate, unfair and overstated evidence to U.S. authorities. The judge also noted a pattern of investigative practices that included officials accepting and relying upon information that might be the product of torture.

Left unanswered was the question of why the U.S. government sent Arar to Syria.

The Canadian government’s settlement also removed Arar’s name from its list of potential terrorists. However, U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff have told Canadian officials that Arar is still on their watch list.  Stockwell Day, Canada’s public safety minister, after traveling to Washington and viewing a confidential file concerning Arar, said that it contained “nothing new” to justify blocking him from entering the U.S.

Maria LaHood, Arar’s U.S. lawyer, said the Bush administration is still not coming clean and is keeping him on a watch list to protect its position in a lawsuit he has filed.  Even Prime Minister Harper has said, “We simply have a U.S. government that won’t admit it’s wrong.”

Since his return to Canada, Arar, who is studying for his Ph.D. in a computer-related field, has been unable to find a job in his discipline.  He is unable to travel to numerous countries.  His career has been destroyed. He has depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, and has expressed great difficulty in making a new life for himself and his family in British Columbia.  

“I have a stressful life every single minute.  I’m tired.  Every day, the cloud is still over me.  I’m not like a normal family father any more.  It’s very hard for people to understand what I’ve been going through, unless they come and live with me, and see it all.” (Globe and Mail, Jan 26)

This case and increased awareness of U.S. seizure and rendition to torture centers in other countries have raised the ire of people around the world, who are pressuring their governments.

A European Union parliamentary committee has called on Italy to apologize for allowing the U.S. to use Rome as a stopover base for the flight that took Arar to be tortured. The EU legislators urge “speedy compensation” for people subject to rendition.  

Its proposed legislation urges member countries to condemn this practice as an illegal instrument used by the U.S.  It calls for the payment of restitution by member countries that have allowed CIA planes to use their airports to refuel en route to secret prisons.  Scores of these CIA “ghost planes” are alleged to have passed through Italy, Britain, Germany, Sweden and other European countries. The European Parliament will vote on it next month.  

These efforts further isolate the U.S. government for its anti-terrorism policies and continue to strip away what little international support the U.S. drummed up for its imperialist war in the Middle East.