A June 26 article misstated the birthplace of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen who was detained by U.S. authorities in New York 2002 and then sent to a prison in Syria. He was born in Syria, not Lebanon.
Inquiry Exposes Canada's Role in 'Renditions'
Sunday, June 26, 2005
OTTAWA -- Maher Arar was teaching English to his fellow inmates in a Syrian prison in September 2003 when a new prisoner caused a commotion at his cell door.
The two haggard men stared at each other for long seconds, Arar recalled in an interview here this week. Then they realized: They were both Canadian.
Arar, 34, a computer engineer who was born in Lebanon, says he was spirited by U.S. authorities to Syria in 2002 and underwent repeated torture while held there for nearly a year. Now, a judicial commission here is seeking to determine how he and three other Arab Canadian citizens wound up being interrogated in the same Syrian prison after coming to the attention of Canadian or U.S. authorities.
Although much of the inquiry has been conducted behind closed doors, a recent series of public hearings has embarrassed the Canadian government by exposing details of Arar's "extraordinary rendition" -- the phrase used by the CIA to describe the U.S. practice of secretly sending terror suspects to countries where torture is routine. The hearings have also revealed a greater Canadian role in the practice than previously acknowledged.
The case has added to the growing discomfort of U.S. allies over such tactics in the war on terrorism. Critics in Sweden and Italy as well as Canada have called their governments to task for cooperating in U.S. renditions, which they say violate human rights.
In Canada, the Arar inquiry has sullied the country's self-image as a principled defender of human rights and may result in a call for tighter limits on intelligence-sharing between Canada and the United States, according to analysts and people involved in the process.
"Most Canadians are sensitive to civil liberties," said Paul J.J. Cavalluzzo, the lead counsel for the inquiry commission, which is headed by the associate chief justice of Ontario province. "They understand it's a bad world out there. But it doesn't mean we should turn our country into a police state. If we do that, we have lost."
The United States has refused to cooperate in the hearings, declining to send witnesses or documents.
The inquiry began after Arar was released without charges by Syria and returned to his family in Ottawa in October 2003. Since then, a series of hearings has disclosed that Canadian intelligence agents met with Arar's Syrian jailers and exchanged information with Syrian officials about Arar. They also suggested that Canadian diplomats were more anxious to see their own countryman interrogated than released.
The government's embarrassment was capped this month by the appearance before the commission of Canada's former ambassador to Damascus, Franco Pillarella, who said he did not know Syria used torture in its jails, despite widespread documentation of such practices by international human rights groups. His icy testimony brought an outpouring of mockery in the press.
"The more officials testify, the worse the picture gets," complained an editorial in the Ottawa Citizen newspaper.
Arar and other observers, however, have expressed more concern about what is not being divulged. Most testimony has been taken in 65 sessions that were closed to the public, including Arar. Many documents submitted in evidence are full of blacked-out redactions. And this week, the scheduled testimony of a key Royal Canadian Mounted Police supervisor was postponed while lawyers wrangled over the how much he should say in public.