Andrew Duffy (Ottawa Citizen) – A federal inquiry has found that Canadian officials bear some responsibility for the torture suffered by three Canadian citizens who were imprisoned in Syria and Egypt in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
In a 544-page report made public yesterday, retired Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci said the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the Department of Foreign Affairs collectively failed the men: Arab-Canadians Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El-Maati and Muayyad Nureddin.
Although the judge did not formally clear the trio of allegations that they were connected to al-Qaeda — it was outside his mandate — he said Canadian officials repeatedly failed to accurately label them in shared intelligence reports.
“The importance of accuracy in communications to foreign agencies cannot be overstated,” Mr. Iacobucci concluded.
The same problem, he noted, had been an aggravating factor in the case of Maher Arar, who was sent to Syria in 2002 by the U.S. partly on the strength of faulty Canadian intelligence.
The judge did not single out any individuals for blame. Instead, he said the officials involved conscientiously carried out their duties at a time when there was “intense pressure” on intelligence and law enforcement agencies.
As in the case of Mr. Arar, however, the three men were damaged by inaccurate reports shared by Canada with the U.S., Syria and Egypt.
“Mistakes were made,” Mr. Iacobucci told reporters.
Among the most egregious mistakes revealed in yesterday’s report:
- The RCMP, in a letter to Syrian law enforcement officials, suggested Ottawa engineer Abdullah Almalki posed “an imminent threat” to Canada’s national security and linked him to al-Qaeda. “The RCMP,” the report found, “appears to have described Mr. Almalki in this way without taking steps to ensure that the description was accurate or properly qualified.”
What’s more, Mr. Iacobucci said, it appears the description came from a foreign agency in relation to another suspect — and did not apply to Mr. Almalki. “The words ‘imminent threat’ in particular were inflammatory, inaccurate and lacking investigative foundation,” he concluded.
The RCMP similarly characterized Mr. El-Maati as an “imminent threat” in a request for information to foreign agencies, including Syria and Egypt, on Sept. 29, 2001. Mr. Iacobucci said the RCMP failed to take any steps to ensure the description was “accurate or justified.”
- The RCMP sent questions to Syrian military intelligence to put to Mr. Almalki after it had been informed by consular officials that Mr. El-Maati had been tortured in Syria. The questions were sent in January 2003.
“Some of the RCMP members involved in the decision to send questions for Mr. Almalki displayed a dismissive attitude towards the issue of human rights and the possibility of torture,” Mr. Iacobucci found. “At least two RCMP members suggested that sending questions posed to Mr. Almalki might have been beneficial to his treatment.”
- CSIS sent questions for Mr. El-Maati to Syria through another foreign agency in December 2001. Mr. Iacobucci concluded that by sending the questions, CSIS likely furthered Mr. El-Maati’s detention and torture. “Syrian officials would likely have viewed these additional questions sent by Canadian officials as a ‘green light’ to continue their interrogation and detention of Mr. El-Maati, rather than a ‘red light’ to stop,” he wrote.
- CSIS sent a statement about Mr. El-Maati to Egyptian authorities in May 2003, expressing concern about his activities in the event of his release. Judge Iacobucci said CSIS failed to consider the impact that statement would have on Mr. El-Maati’s treatment. He was not released until January, 2004.
- CSIS shared information with several foreign agencies indicating that it had “confirmed” Mr. Nureddin as a human courier for Ansar al-Islam in northern Iraq. “It did so,” Mr. Iacobucci noted, “without first taking adequate measures to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the information or qualify it as appropriate.”
Mr. Iacobucci told reporters that his