Monday, June 14, 2010

Canadian Police ( RMCP ) go global with Maher Arar Torture Probe

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.

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.”


Connie L. Nash said...

See Christian Science Monitor article today By Warren Richey, Staff writer / June 14, 2010

A Canadian citizen has lost his bid to hold US officials accountable for their decision to label him an Al Qaeda suspect and deport him to Syria where he was held without charge for a year and allegedly tortured during US-directed interrogations.

The US Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up the case of Maher Arar, who was born in Syria but had lived in Canada since his teens.

US officials detained Mr. Arar in September 2002 as he attempted to change planes at New York’s Kennedy International Airport for a flight home to Canada from Tunisia. He was held in the US and questioned by federal agents for 13 days before being whisked off to Syria.

Arar asked to be sent home to Canada, complaining that he would be tortured in Syria. Once in Syria, he was housed in a three-foot by six-foot by seven-foot cell. “Syrian officials tortured Arar while asking him questions strikingly similar to those federal agents had asked him in New York,” Arar’s petition to the high court said.

In October 2003, Syrian officials released Arar and allowed him to return to Canada after concluding he had no link to Al Qaeda, to terrorism, or to any other wrongdoing. After an inquiry into his ordeal, the Canadian Parliament and prime minister issued public apologies to Arar and awarded him $10.5 million Canadian dollars in compensation for the Canadian government’s part in his treatment.

Arar filed a lawsuit in the US seeking to hold American officials accountable for their actions. The suit alleged that US authorities held Arar incommunicado under harsh conditions in Brooklyn during days of interrogation. When his family hired a lawyer, officials allegedly deceived her to prevent her from seeking judicial review of Arar’s threatened deportation to Syria.

The suit also alleged that US officials conspired to have Syrian authorities use torture to gain answers federal agents were unable to obtain during questioning in the US.

US officials have denied the allegation that they conspired to have Arar tortured. They said they obtained assurances from Syria that Arar would not be tortured.

To date, the US government position on Arar has been to insist that Arar has no legal right to seek to hold American officials accountable for his ordeal.

This comment cont' just below...

Connie L. Nash said...

Comment above from Chrisitian Science Monitor article cont' here:

In denying review of Arar’s case, the high court lets stand a 7 to 4 ruling by the full Second US Circuit Court of Appeals in New York. That court found that because of “special factors” involving national security, Arar’s lawsuit should be dismissed. It also ruled that the Torture Victim Protection Act did not authorize lawsuits against US officials who were acting under US law on American soil.

"This case does not concern the propriety of torture or whether it should be countenanced by the courts,” wrote Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal in the US government’s brief urging the court to dismiss the case.

He said because of national security concerns, lawsuits such as Arar’s must be dismissed, even when there is no other legal recourse available to address alleged government misconduct.

It is up to Congress, not the courts, to establish the scope of legal safeguards, he said. “Judicial refusal to create a private cause of action in this context does not leave the executive power unbounded,” Mr. Katyal wrote.

During the Bush administration, Katyal was a law professor who successfully represented Osama bin Laden’s former driver and bodyguard in a Supreme Court case that resulted in the military commission process at Guantanamo being struck down. In public statements back then, he said the effort was aimed at insuring that his client, Salim Hamdan, would receive fair treatment and his day in court.

“We are a land of justice and fairness, and with a system that is strong enough to handle even the most extraordinary of challenges,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2006.

Lawyers for Arar offered a similar argument. But theirs came with a warning. “To deny petitioner Maher Arar a remedy is to reward federal officials for flouting one of the most fundamental prohibitions that our law recognizes – the prohibition on torture – and for evading the judicial check that Congress established,” Maria LaHood wrote in Arar’s brief, urging the high court to take up the case.

“If US officials are free to deliver a man to be tortured without any legal accountability, the prohibition on torture found in the Constitution and federal statutes is empty symbolism,” she wrote.


* Blog: CIA rendition flights landed in British territories
* Blog: US court allows rendition lawsuit against CIA contractor
* Truth, justice, and the un-American way
* Ending CIA rendition of terror suspects

Dinah Menil said...
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