Colin Freeze, Globe and Mail
Misleading court testimony given by unnamed RCMP officers was kept secret on the grounds of national security, it emerged yesterday.Mr. Justice Dennis O’Connor found the Mounties had failed to properly disclose the full context of their case against a terrorist suspect when they attempted to obtain a telephone warrant that would allow them to eavesdrop on an unknown suspect’s conversations. And when Judge O’Connor highlighted the problems in his findings, the government decided the criticisms should be kept from the public, and redacted them.
Yesterday, that 350-word passage was finally released, highlighting three specific points that showed how the RCMP overreached in their application before a judge for a telephone warrant based on information Ahmad Abou El Maati gave while detained in Syria.
The first of several Canadian Arabs held in Syria after 9/11, Mr. El Maati spent two years held first in Syria and then Egypt. He says he was tortured. His lawyer, Barbara Jackman, said: “He has seen 62 doctors.”
Since her client returned to Canada in 2004, she added, he has been treated for injuries to his shoulders, knees and back, and also an anal fissure he suffered while detained in the Middle East.
In their application for a warrant in September of 2002, the RCMP referred to a confession Mr. El Maati was said to have given to Syrian interrogators. He told them that he had undertaken pilot training at the request of his brother and that he had accepted a mission to be a suicide bomber on Parliament Hill. The RCMP said that although they had been told such a confession had been recanted as it had been gained under torture, they had corroborated the information and it “continues to be true.”
But Judge O’Connor found that the unnamed RCMP officers involved in the warrant application failed to give complete information to the presiding judge. They failed to explain that Mr. El Maati was held incommunicado by Syrian military intelligence, which is known to use torture; they had not told the judge about the human-rights record of Syria; and they failed to explain that a foreign-affairs report suggesting Mr. El Maati had been seen in custody and in good health had come in a visit nine months after the alleged torture took place.
Mr. El Maati was an obvious candidate for close scrutiny after 9/11. Though he has always denied any links to al-Qaeda, he acknowledges he fought with mujahedeen forces in Afghanistan and returned to Canada in the late 1990s to drive transport trucks and that he also took about five flight lessons.
Authorities were alarmed by a seemingly suspicious map they say was found in his rig, which was later determined to be a Canadian government handout.
After 9/11, the Canadian citizenship papers of his brother allegedly turned up in a bombed al-Qaeda safe house. The FBI continues to seek Amer El-Maati as an al-Qaeda fugitive today.
Ms. Jackman said yesterday’s newly released information will assist a continuing commission into her client’s case, which is proceeding largely in secret.
She added that Mr. El Maati is pleased with yesterday’s disclosure and sees “it as an affirmation that what they [authorities] did was wrong.”
She added that when Mr. El Maati was in Afghanistan he fought against the Taliban – and not with them. She said she thinks he aligned with a faction known as Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin. The organization was not banned by Canada at the time, but it was declared a terrorist organization by the Conservative government last year.
All of this factored into the arrest of Mr. El Maati by the Syrian government when he flew there in 2001. He was immediately taken into custody and says he was made to utter false confessions – a bomb plot incorporating various details of his past, as well as an assertion that he saw Maher Arar in Afghanistan a year before that Canadian also was detained in Syria for interrogation.