Canada’s Mounties have been quietly running an investigation into US and Syrian officials linked to the arrest and deportation of a Canadian citizen who was tortured in a Syrian prison, and could lay criminal charges in the matter, sources report.
The news comes the same day that the US Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal brought by Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian engineer who was detained at New York’s JFK Airport in 2002 on suspicion of terrorist links and flown to Syria, where he was tortured for the better part of a year.
A long and expensive inquiry into the matter held by the Canadian government exonerated Arar, finding that Canadian officials had given US authorities incorrect information linking Arar to terrorism. In 2007 Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized to Arar and offered him a $10.5 million settlement.
Now the Royal Canadian Mounted Police has set its sights on the US officials responsible for sending Arar to be tortured in Syria, a country that is not on friendly terms with the US. The investigation is “unprecedented,” reports the Toronto Star.
The Star reports:
Code-named Ã¢â‚¬Å“Project Prism,Ã¢â‚¬Â 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 ArarÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The US should be conducting its own criminal investigation of the officials responsible for sending an innocent man to Syria for a year to be interrogated under torture, not covering for them,” attorney Maria LaHood of the Center for Constitutional Rights said in a statement.
“Again, the Canadians are doing the right thing by criminally investigating not only Syrian officials, but officials from the US as well. The Obama administration should look to the Canadian example and do what’s right – apologize to Maher and hold his torturers accountable.Ã¢â‚¬Â
But the refusal by the Supreme Court to take up the case means Arar’s last legal avenue in the US is closed in a decision that could impact similar cases.
“Today’s decision eliminates my last bit of hope in the judicial system of the United States,” Arar said in a statement.
“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,” he alleged.
The system of secret renditions, under which terror suspects were sent to third countries for tough interrogations outside the US legal system, was developed under the former administration of president George W. Bush.
The practice was halted by the current administration of President Barack Obama.
Arar’s lawyer David Cole said “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.
“We are deeply disappointed that the courts have shirked their responsibility,” Cole stressed.
Influential senator Patrick Leahy meanwhile said he was disappointed, noting that “the United States’ secret rendition of Maher Arar to Syria, where he was tortured for nearly a year, remains a stain on this nation’s legacy as a human rights leader around the world.”
— With reporting from AFP