Tortured Canadian wins(?) battle for truth


Richard Moore

Original source URL:,,1885684,00.html?gusrc=rss&feed=12

Ottawa dispatch

Tortured Canadian wins battle for truth

Four years after he was detained as a suspected terrorist, Maher Arar's name has
finally been cleared, writes Anne McIlroy

Monday October 2, 2006
Guardian Unlimited

Four years ago, Canadian Maher Arar was detained on a routine airport stopover 
in the United States. He ended up Syria, where he was imprisoned and tortured 
for 10 months.

When he was released by the Syrians and returned to Canada, he started asking 
how he had been targeted as an Islamist terrorist. His search for answers has 
made him into a national celebrity, and is likely to end with an apology from 
the prime minister himself.

Late last month, a public inquiry cleared him of any connection to terrorism and
criticised the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) for feeding American 
officials misleading information about him.

Last week, RCMP commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli finally offered Mr Arar a full
apology: "I wish to take this opportunity to express publicly to you and to your
wife and to your children how truly sorry I am for whatever part the actions of 
the RCMP may have contributed to the terrible injustices that you experienced 
and the pain that you and your family endured."

Mr Justice Dennis O'Connor, who led the public inquiry, found that the police 
had passed faulty intelligence reports to US authorities that had "very likely" 
led to his arrest at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York, and the beginning of 
Mr Arar's nightmare. He couldn't say for sure because the Americans refused to 
participate in the inquiry. Based on the flimsiest of evidence - the fact that 
he was an acquaintance of a man the Americans suspected of being a terrorist - 
the RCMP told American officials that Mr Arar was suspected of links to 

They continued to feed questions about him to his Syrian captors, even as 
Canada's foreign affairs minister was working to get him out of the dark, narrow
Syrian jail cell Mr Arar called "the grave." Even after the Syrians released Mr 
Arar finding no evidence of terrorist links, the RCMP ran a smear campaign, 
leaking details to reporters about a "confession" Mr Arar had made while he was 
being tortured. Judge O'Connor also reported that the RCMP had not been straight
with government officials about its role.

The House of Commons has also apologised to Mr Arar. Prime Minister Stephen 
Harper is expected to do so once the government reaches a financial settlement 
with Mr Arar, who suffers from depression and post-traumatic stress syndrome as 
a result of his ordeal. He has not been able to work since his release from 
prison and return to Canada three years ago.

But for Mr Arar, it is not enough. He wants to see changes to the RCMP that will
prevent this kind of abuse from happening in the future, including better 
oversight of the police force.

"I did not seek revenge. I want better institutions in Canada. That is what I 
want. One way of ensuring this is we have to hold those people accountable."

The 36-year-old software engineer has had trouble controlling his emotions 
following the release of Judge O'Connor's report, breaking down into tears 
during a number of media interviews.

Critics have called for the commissioner of the RCMP to resign, for the officers
involved to be disciplined, for the Canadian officials who dealt so callously 
with Mr Arar to be held accountable.

Mr Arar has won a hard-fought victory, not just for himself but for all 
Canadians. Through his persistence, and that of his wife, they have seen how the
powers of the state were abused in the panic and fear that followed the 
September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

Three other Canadian citizens were also tortured in the Middle East under 
similar circumstances: Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El Maati and Muyyed Nurredin. The
government says it is now considering ways to get to the bottom of what happened
to them without the cost and delay of holding full public inquiries.

As for Mr Arar, he is trying to rebuild his life. He has moved to British 
Columbia with his wife and two children, and says the people in the community of
Kamloops have welcomed them warmly. He is now a national celebrity, his face and
his story splashed across the front pages of newspapers and leading the evening 
news. Flying to his new home, from Ottawa, he was able to get his boarding pass 
without airline officials making phone calls to make sure it was safe for him to
get on the airplane. He is no longer deemed a threat to national security.

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