Torture victim Maher Arar says he was shocked when he learned earlier this month that Pentagon war crimes prosecutors had linked him to a terrorist safe house in Afghanistan through an interrogation of Omar Khadr in Guantanamo Bay.
"It was shocking," Arar said last night before a panel discussion about media coverage of his case was held at the University of Toronto's Victoria College. "For a week at least, I have been in deep depression mode and it's not easy, believe me it's not easy," Arar said.
An FBI interrogator told court in Guantanamo Bay last week that in 2002 Khadr said he recognized Arar in a photo because the Ottawa engineer had stayed at terrorist "safe houses" in Afghanistan.
The agent's claim was severely undermined, however, when court heard the following day that Arar was in North America during the time in question. The agent testified that Khadr saw Arar in Afghanistan during late September or October 2001. A Canadian judicial inquiry determined in 2006 that Arar was in San Diego on a business trip on the day of the 9/11 terror attacks - and back in Canada in October.
Arar yesterday vehemently denied he had ever been in Afghanistan, saying the only time he has ever seen Khadr before was on TV.
He then went on to blame journalists who blindly report unfounded allegations. "I'm not surprised because it's happened many times and probably will continue to happen as long as the media is willing to publish those (stories,)" said Arar.
Arar described his experience with the media that went from being disinterested in his story to discrediting him through anonymous government sources.
"I want reporters to consider who they serve, the powerful and the anonymous or the weak and the vulnerable," Arar later told the gathering. "Err on the side of the weak not the strong."
Arar slammed the reporting of the latest allegations linking him to Afghanistan, pouring particular scorn on sensational headline writers.
He said the latest attempts by the FBI prosecutors to link him to terrorist activities are part of an ongoing pattern of leaks meant to hurt at critical times. Arar said he couldn't be sure but it may be part an attempt to tar him at a time when his lawsuit against senior U.S. officials has been reopened by U.S. courts.
"I've had enough of this, my family has had enough of this," Arar said about the Khadr insinuation.
The panel discussion at last night's event organized by the Canadian Journalism Foundation probed the role of the media in Arar's rendition, his release and ongoing quest for accountability.
Arar, a Canadian citizen of Syrian origin was arrested in 2002 while switching planes in New York City.
Based on faulty RCMP information and suspected links to Al Qaeda, U.S. officials sent Arar to Syria where he spent 10 months in jail being beaten and tortured. An inquiry cleared him and ended with a $10.5 million apology from Ottawa.