June 14, 2010 posted at Star dot com 6:40 EST (Also see next two posts for report from legal defense Center for Constitutional Rights and suggested action to require further investigation from US authorities.)
Photo from 2006 -
Maher Arar at a 2006 news conference in Ottawa.
Photographer CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS
Mitch Potter Washington Bureau The Star
WASHINGTON—An unprecedented RMCP probe into the Arar torture affair has gone global, with the possibility the Mounties will lay charges against U.S. and Syrian government officials involved in the case.
Lawyers for Maher Arar confirm their client has been co-operating closely as a team of RCMP investigators turns its gaze abroad to focus on foreign officials allegedly complicit in the Syrian-born Canadian’s year-long detention in an underground cell in Damascus, where he underwent torture.
Code-named “Project Prism,” the four-member RCMP probe was first disclosed by the Toronto Star last December. It was thought then to be focused mainly on the actions of Canadian government officials in the Arar rendition saga.
But Arar’s lawyers now say the Mounties are looking foremost to Syria and the United States for the missing pieces to the Arar puzzle, which already was the subject of an exhaustive Canadian inquiry that ended in full exoneration for Arar, including a public apology from Ottawa and $10 million in damages.
“The RCMP team did interview a lot of Canadians. But the primary focus has been on Syrian officials and, secondarily, U.S. officials,” said Arar’s Canadian lawyer, Paul Champ.
“They have made numerous international trips, interviewed a number of people abroad. And to some extent, then have been able collect information from the other governments in question.”
Arar revealed his participation in the Mountie probe Monday, immediately following the ultimate setback in his quest for American justice — the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to end judicial review of the events that saw him plucked at JFK Airport as a suspected Al Qaeda operative and sent to his native Syria eight years ago.
In a prepared statement, Arar said the U.S. high court decision “eliminates my last bit of hope in the judicial system of the United States.
“When it comes to ‘national security’ matters the judicial system has willingly abandoned its sacred role of ensuring that no one is above the law,” Arar said.
In the wake of the high court decision, the U.S.-based Center for Constitutional Rights called on President Barack Obama and U.S. Congress to follow Ottawa’s lead in issuing an apology and compensation to Arar.
“The courts have regrettably refused to right the egregious wrong done to Maher Arar. But the courts have never questioned that a wrong was done. They have simply said that it is up to the political branches to fashion a remedy,” said CCR attorney David Cole.
“But this decision only underscores the moral responsibility of those to whom the courts deferred — President Obama and Congress — to do the right thing and redress Arar’s injuries.”
Champ said Arar’s co-operation with the RCMP’s Project Prism criminal probe began nearly four years ago and has included “a couple of recorded interviews each year,” including one in 2010.
“Mr. Arar would not be co-operating to this extent if there wasn’t the expectation that this could lead to criminal charges at the end of the process,” Champ said.
RCMP officials in Ottawa on Monday refused to confirm or deny the existence of the probe, citing privacy laws. But its existence is hardly a well-kept secret.
The decision to shift the investigation overseas, however, takes the RCMP down a legal road not widely traveled. Human rights activists note that only the governments of Spain and Italy have pursued terror-related criminal investigations beyond their borders involving American officials.
“It takes some amount of courage to stand up to the U.S. government and I give the RCMP full credit for that,” said CCR Senior Attorney Maria LaHood.
“It underscores the fact that Canada has done the right thing in this case and continues to press the American government to do the right thing.”
Champ said that while an outcome of criminal charges against foreign officials is far from assured, any such decision by the RCMP would set in motion a precise legal sequence.
“Charges would be followed by the issuing of warrants, which go then to Interpol. And if the individuals named enter any country that respects those warrants – and that is most countries – they would be arrested,” he said.
“The trend in international law over the past 10 or 15 years has been moving in this direction, the time for impunity is coming to an end. So this is not over. Mr. Arar’s quest for accountability and justice has not come to an end.”