October 22, 2008 -- MONTREAL (AFP) — Canadian officials played an "indirect" role in the wrongful jailing and torture of three Canadian nationals in Syria and Egypt, an inquiry said Tuesday.
The probe, led by retired Supreme Court judge Frank Iacobucci, began in March behind closed doors to determine if the trio was mistreated abroad and whether Canadian authorities shared intelligence with their counterparts in these countries, as alleged.
Canadians Ahmad El Maati, Abdullah Almalki and Muayyed Nureddin, born in Kuwait, Syria and Iraq respectively, were arrested by Syrian Military Intelligence during trips abroad from 2001 to 2004, suspected of Al-Qaeda links.
El Maati said he was later transferred to Egyptian custody.
All three men were released without charges between January and March 2004.
Each claimed upon return to Canada that he had been tortured, and that Canadian security officials had supplied their captors with intelligence and questions to pose the detainees.
Iacobucci found that Canadian officials did not have direct responsibility for detention or abuse "that amounted to torture, as that term is defined in the UN Convention Against Torture," said a statement announcing release of the inquiry's findings.
But he found that "mistreatment resulted indirectly" from actions taken by Canadian intelligence agencies and federal police, including information sharing and in some cases "deficiencies" of consular service provided to the men.
"I found no evidence that any of these officials were seeking to do anything other than carry out conscientiously the duties and responsibilities of the institutions of which they were a part," the judge said.
"It is neither necessary nor appropriate that I make findings concerning the actions of any individual Canadian official, and I have not done so."
He added that the probe was also not given a mandate to investigate the conduct of the three Canadians.
"Nothing in the report should be taken as an indication that any allegation that might have been made against any of them is founded," the statement said.
The commission was created in the wake of the case of Maher Arar, a dual Canadian-Syrian citizen who claimed he was tortured in Syria after US authorities arrested him in New York in 2002.
A 2007 judicial report found US authorities had likely relied on faulty intelligence provided by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to arrest and deport Arar, who was absolved of suspicion and awarded 10 million dollars by the Canadian government for his ordeal.
The three men recently pleaded with Canadian officials to open the inquiry to the public.
"I'm still waiting for real answers so I can get on with my life," El Maati, accused by Canadian authorities of links to Al-Qaeda, said on October 12, 2007.
"I'm here today to ask Prime Minister (Stephen) Harper to help us and all Canadians get answers ... to help us open up this inquiry."
Nureddin told reporters: "My life is in limbo. Not knowing what is going on at the inquiry, not being able to participate in an inquiry into why I was tortured, not knowing the exact role Canada played in this, not knowing all of this makes this limbo another form of torture."
Almalki said he was "frustrated" by the secrecy of the hearings. "As the saying goes, justice must not only be done, but it must be seen to be done."
El Maati, who holds dual Canadian-Egyptian citizenship, said he was on his way to celebrate his wedding in Syria when he was stopped at the Damascus airport in November 2001.
Nureddin was going to visit family in northern Iraq when he was stopped at the Iraqi-Syrian border in December 2003, he said.
Almalki was detained in Damascus in May 2002 while traveling to visit family in Syria. He previously claimed he was forced to sign a false confession that he planned to bomb the Canadian parliament.
He said in October 2006 he made the statement hoping to be immediately returned to Canada where he expected to clear his name.
That the inquiry will not clear their names "is a huge concern," their attorney said.