So the CIA had its dirty callused fingers all over the kidnapping of a Canadian citizen and his furtive export to Syria in October of 2002. So the “information” that led to this nightmare for Maher Arar was largely based on a “confession” elicited by torture in Syria. So the Royal Canadian Mounted Police knew very well that their suspicions of Arar were based on torture.
None of this, revealed under a court order yesterday, will startle anyone who has paid any attention to the Arar story. But it is good, all the same, to get more facts out in the open.
The federal government had insisted on blacking out certain sections of Justice Dennis O’Connor’s four-volume report on the Arar scandal, which was published last September. But O’Connor himself – among others – wanted more information made public. Last month, Federal Court Justice Simon Noel said that while some sections should still remain secret, an additional 1,500 words could be un-censored. That’s what happened yesterday.
The sheer banality of the new revelations surely goes a long way toward justifying Justice Noel’s decision. The government’s defence of continued secrecy was based on what it likes to call the third-party rule: For national security reasons, Canadian agencies should never be required to divulge secrets received from friendly foreign government agencies – so-called third parties.
It’s the sort of rule only a spymaster could love: When we hear anything from such an agency, the normal rights of a Canadian – to confront his accuser, to know the evidence against him – go into the garbage.
Like Simon now, O’Connor stopped short last year of saying Canadian agencies should never accept information that is the fruit of torture. And it is possible to imagine situations – just watch the TV program 24 – in which such information could be priceless. Outside the realm of TV drama and airport-bookstore thrillers, however, there’s a serious problem with torture-generated revelations: They are very often nonsense. People will say anything to get the torture to stop.
That is apparently what happened to Ahmad Abou El Maati, another Canadian who, shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, was tortured by Syrian jailers into making a “confession” about planning a terror-bomb attack in Canada. He fingered Arar as an associate, and that appears to have been enough to make Canadian government agencies discard Arar’s rights like a used tissue.
Need we say that El Maati, once back in Canada, renounced his confession, saying he would have told his jailers anything, and that he apologized for randomly naming Arar?
Anti-terrorism, and the whole world of intelligence, is an ethical no-man’s-land where it becomes very difficult to stick to firm rules. But the RCMP acted like ignorant and malicious amateurs in this case. It is good to know in more detail what happened. But can we say with confidence it won’t happen again?