Canada on Tuesday filed charges against a Syrian intelligence officer for torturing Maher Arar, the Canadian citizen who was handed over to the Syrian government in 2002 by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
The whereabouts of the officer, Col. George Salloum, are unknown and it is unlikely that he will be arrested and extradited to Canada to face charges. But Arar's family said the move by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) signals a newly strengthened opposition to CIA tactics of kidnapping and rendition.
It is also the first formal acknowledgment that Arar was tortured as a terror suspect, although an earlier investigation by the Canadian government in 2006 also cleared him of any links to extremist organizations. Arar's ordeal became one of the most well-known cases of extraordinary rendition.
"This is a clear message to my husband—and to whoever denied that torture happened—that this is real and that you cannot commit torture [with] impunity," his wife, Monia Mazigh, said on Tuesday.
The charges are "a big step in the right direction," Mazigh added. "We need to see more accountability happening in Canada, in the U.S., in Jordan and in Syria. The ones who tortured and the ones who helped these horrible acts to happen should face justice."
One of Arar's attorneys, Paul Champ, said the charges were "groundbreaking and historic... critical for a family who have long struggled for justice."
Salloum reportedly oversaw Arar's treatment at the notorious Sednaya prison in Damascus. According to the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represented Arar in a lawsuit against former Attorney General John Ashcroft and other U.S. government officials, Arar was sent to the facility after being detained during a layover with his family at John F. Kennedy airport in New York. After nearly two weeks in custody by U.S. authorities, Arar was rendered to Syria, where he remained for almost a year. He was never charged with a crime.
Former U.S. spy and whistleblower John Kiriakou recently revealed that the intelligence agency knew Arar was the wrong guy when they arrested him.
"My husband and my family suffered tremendously all these years," Mazigh added. "Extraordinary rendition is a horrible tool that has been used by the U.S. government in an attempt to make torture legal and acceptable."
A statement by the RCMP says the force "will continue to work with its domestic and international law enforcement and security partners in locating Salloum in order to begin the extradition process to bring him to Canada where he will face justice."
But while Arar's family and human rights activists welcomed the development, they also emphasized that it did not go far enough.
ACLU Human Rights Program director Jamil Dakwar told The Intercept on Tuesday, "As part of the process of providing Mr. Arar his right to truth, the U.S. government should, as a matter of obligation, open an investigation into the responsibility of U.S. officials in his mistreatment."
Dakwar continued: "This episode has never been credibly or independently investigated in the United States. If there is evidence of lawbreaking, including complicity in torture, the individuals responsible need to be held criminally responsible, and there needs to be an apology and reparations provided to the victim."