Canadian Rendition Probe Expands to US, Syria

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by
Inter Press Service

Canadian Rendition Probe Expands to US, Syria

by
William Fisher

Maher Arar at a news conference last December. He was detained in New York in 2002 and then sent to Syria. he Toronto Star newspaper is reporting that "an unprecedented Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) probe into the Arar torture affair has gone global, with the possibility the Mounties will lay charges against U.S. and Syrian government officials involved in the case."(Chris Wattie/Reuters)

NEW YORK -
The Canadian government has quietly been conducting an international
criminal probe of the actions of Syrian and U.S. authorities in the
case of Maher Arar, the Canadian who was arrested in 2002 by U.S.
officials and then rendered to a Syrian jail where he was held
incommunicado and tortured for 10 months before being released without
charge, it was revealed Monday.

The Toronto Star newspaper is reporting that "an unprecedented Royal
Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) probe into the Arar torture affair has
gone global, with the possibility the Mounties will lay charges against
U.S. and Syrian government officials involved in the case."

Code-named
"Project Prism", the four-member RCMP probe was first disclosed by the
Toronto Star last December, but was thought then to be focused mainly
on the actions of Canadian government officials in the Arar rendition
saga.

But the Star says the Mounties are looking 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 dollars in damages.

"The RCMP team did interview a
lot of Canadians. But the primary focus has been on Syrian officials
and, secondarily, U.S. officials," Arar's Canadian lawyer, Paul Champ,
told the newspaper.

Arar revealed his participation in the
Mountie probe Monday, immediately following the ultimate setback in his
quest for U.S. justice - the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to end
judicial review of the events that saw him sent to his native Syria
eight years ago.

In a prepared statement, Arar said the U.S. high
court decision "eliminates my last bit of hope in the judicial system
of the United States. "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."

In the wake of the high court
decision, the U.S.-based Centre for Constitutional Rights called on
President Barack Obama and the U.S. Congress to follow Ottawa's lead in
issuing an apology and paying compensation to Arar.

His lawyers
confirm that their client has been cooperating closely as a team of
RCMP investigators turns its gaze abroad to focus on foreign officials
allegedly complicit in the Syrian-born Canadian's mistreatment.

The
newspaper is reporting that RCMP investigators "have been able collect
information from the other governments in question".

"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," said CCR attorney David Cole.

"But this
decision only underscores the moral responsibility of those to whom the
courts deferred - President Obama and Congress - to do the right thing
and redress Arar's injuries."

Champ told the newspaper that
Arar's cooperation with the RCMP's Project Prism criminal probe began
nearly four years ago and has included "a couple of recorded interviews
each year", including one in 2010.

"Mr. Arar would not be
cooperating to this extent if there wasn't the expectation that this
could lead to criminal charges at the end of the process," Champ said.

RCMP
officials in Ottawa on Monday refused to confirm or deny the existence
of the probe, citing privacy laws. But its existence is hardly a
well-kept secret.

The Star writes: "The decision to shift the
investigation overseas, however, takes the RCMP down a legal road not
widely traveled. Human rights activists note that only the governments
of Spain and Italy have pursued terror-related criminal investigations
beyond their borders involving American officials."

"It takes
some amount of courage to stand up to the U.S. government and I give
the RCMP full credit for that," said CCR Senior Attorney Maria LaHood,
adding, "It underscores the fact that Canada has done the right thing
in this case and continues to press the American government to do the
right thing."

Champ said that while an outcome of criminal
charges against foreign officials is far from assured, any such
decision by the RCMP would set in motion a precise legal sequence.

"Charges
would be followed by the issuing of warrants, which go then to
Interpol. And if the individuals named enter any country that respects
those warrants - and that is most countries - they would be arrested,"
he said.

"The trend in international law over the past 10 or 15
years has been moving in this direction, the time for impunity is
coming to an end. So this is not over. Arar's quest for accountability
and justice has not come to an end."

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