Canadian Was Falsely Accused, Panel Says
After Tip From Ally, U.S. Sent Muslim to Syria for
By Doug Struck
Washington Post Foreign Service
09/19/06 "Washington Post" -- -- TORONTO, Sept. 18 -- Canadian intelligence officials
passed false warnings and bad information to American agents
about a Muslim Canadian citizen, after which U.S.
authorities secretly whisked him to Syria, where he was
tortured, a judicial report found Monday.
The report, released in Ottawa, was the result of a 2
1/2-year inquiry that represented one of the first public
investigations into mistakes made as part of the United
States' "extraordinary rendition" program, which has
secretly spirited suspects to foreign countries for
interrogation by often brutal methods.
The inquiry, which focused on the Canadian intelligence
services, found that agents who were under pressure to find
terrorists after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, falsely
labeled an Ottawa computer consultant, Maher Arar, as a
dangerous radical. They asked U.S. authorities to put him
and his wife, a university economist, on the al-Qaeda
"watchlist," without justification, the report said.
Arar was also listed as "an Islamic extremist individual"
who was in the Washington area on Sept. 11. The report
concluded that he had no involvement in Islamic extremism
and was on business in San Diego that day, said the head of
the inquiry commission, Ontario Justice Dennis O'Connor.
Arar, now 36, was detained by U.S. authorities as he
changed planes in New York on Sept. 26, 2002. He was held
for questioning for 12 days, then flown by jet to Jordan and
driven to Syria. He was beaten, forced to confess to having
trained in Afghanistan -- where he never has been -- and
then kept in a coffin-size dungeon for 10 months before he
was released, the Canadian inquiry commission found.
O'Connor concluded that "categorically there is no
evidence" that Arar did anything wrong or was a security
Although the report centered on Canadian actions, the
counsel for the commission, Paul Cavalluzzo, said the
results show that the U.S. practice of renditions "ought to
"This is really the first report in the Western world
that has had access to all of the government documents we
wanted and saw the practice of extraordinary rendition in
full color," he said in an interview from Ottawa. "The
ramifications were that an innocent Canadian was tortured,
his life was put upside down, and it set him back years and
Arar, who came to Canada from Syria when he was 17, said
in Ottawa that he was thankful that he had been vindicated.
He expressed surprise and anger at learning Monday that
Canadian authorities also had asked U.S. authorities to put
his wife on the al-Qaeda watchlist.
"Today Justice O'Connor has cleared my name and restored
my reputation," he said at a news conference. He said the
individual Canadian officials should be held accountable:
"Justice requires no less."
O'Connor said it was beyond his mandate to recommend
discipline for any individual.
"He really is a victim of authorities in three
governments, as well as being an innocent man," Irwin
Cotler, a member of parliament from the Liberal Party, said
after the report was issued.
Stockwell Day, the federal government's public safety
minister, said the treatment of Arar was "regrettable. We
hope, with any future situations, never to see this happen
Since Sept. 11, the CIA, working with other intelligence
agencies, has captured an estimated 3,000 people in its
effort to dismantle terrorist networks. Many of them have
been secretly taken by "extraordinary rendition" to other
countries, hidden from U.S. legal requirements and often
subject to torture.
Those renditions are often carried out by CIA agents
dressed head to toe in black, wearing masks, who blindfold
their subjects and dress them in black. The practice is
generating increased opposition by other countries; Italy is
seeking to prosecute CIA officers who allegedly abducted a
Muslim cleric in Milan in February 2003, and German
prosecutors are investigating the CIA's activities in their
Although details of the renditions and the destinations
of those held are secret, President Bush has confirmed the
existence of CIA-run prisons throughout the world. Some of
the subjects of renditions have been held in those prisons.
O'Connor also recommended that the government review the
case of three other Muslim Canadian citizens, who were
detained when they traveled through Syria, to determine what
role Canadian authorities played in their imprisonment.
But it was the case of Arar, a reserved, soft-spoken
father of two, that created outrage in Canada after he
returned in 2003 and said he wanted the public to know what
had happened to him.
The report said agents of the Royal Canadian Mounted
Police "overstated" Arar's importance in the broad
investigation they began of potential Canadian suspects
after Sept. 11.
Canadian police opened a file on Arar after seeing him
talking to two other Muslim Canadians they were watching,
authorities have acknowledged. Arar insisted the men were
casual acquaintances in the small Muslim community in
Montreal, where he lived before moving to British Columbia.
O'Connor said Monday that police agents told the
Americans that Arar was "suspected of being linked to the al
Qaeda movement." The judge concluded: "The RCMP had no basis
for this description."
The Mounties also falsely claimed Arar had refused to be
interviewed and had "suddenly" left for Tunisia. It listed
him as a business associate of another man they called a
"Bin Laden associate." Those descriptions were "either
completely inaccurate" or overstated his casual connections,
O'Connor said in an 822-page, three-volume report.
That information "very likely" led to his rendition, the
report said. U.S. officials refused to cooperate with the
Cavalluzzo said the Canadian agents apparently operated
without proper training. "The best one can say is that it
was sheer incompetence. They did not appreciate the fact
that the branding of someone as a 'target' or 'suspect' or
'Islamic extremist' to Americans in 2002 could lead to
After Arar was detained in New York, Canadian authorities
apparently were unaware the Americans were preparing to send
him to Syria, according to the commission finding.
The RCMP contact, Inspector Michel Cabana, "was under the
impression that Mr. Arar would only be detained for a short
time," O'Connor's report said. "In his view, Mr. Arar was
being held in a country with many of the same values as
Arar filed a lawsuit in U.S. federal court, but the case
was dismissed by a judge citing "national security" issues.
Arar is also seeking compensation from the Canadian
Some crucial questions about the incident remain
unanswered, at least publicly. Over the repeated objections
of O'Connor, the federal government censored much of the
testimony given during the proceedings as well as some of
the final report. O'Connor's report said a federal court
should be asked to decide whether to disclose some of the
Arar was not permitted to testify; the judge ruled it
would be unfair to subject him to questioning based on
secret information. He has testified before a European
Parliament committee in Brussels.
Special correspondent Natalia Alexandrova contributed
to this report.
© 2006 The Washington Post Company