Canada: Public inquiry into Maher Arar case - how about al-Rawi and al-Banna?

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- lessons for Britain in Canadian outcry over ordeal of Maher Arar

At the end of January, the Canadian government yielded to public pressure and announced a public inquiry into the case Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen detained by the US authorities when returning home from holiday via Washington in September 2002, who was then deported to Syria via Jordan. Mr. Arar was held in solitary confinement without charge for more than a year, tortured, beaten and mistreated, before being returned to Canada.

The inquiry will look into Arar's detention in Washington - where he was held for ten days and visited by a Canadian consul official - his deportation to Syria, imprisonment and torture, his return to Canada, and the role of the CSIS (Canadian intelligence services) and RCMP (police). Critics have said that by ignoring the investigations of the US and Syria, the enquiry may not go far enough.

It is unclear at this stage whether the inquiry will also encompass a heavy-handed police raid on the home of a journalist who had published material on the Arar case that it is alleged was initially leaked to her by the Canadian security services.

Since his return to Canada in October 2003, Mr. Arar has campaigned tirelessly for a public enquiry into his ordeal. He has been supported by voluntary groups, NGOs, media, MPs and the wider public, sparking a debate on the impact of the US led "war on terror" on Canadian civil liberties.

Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil al-Banna

Maher Arar's case bears many similarities to that of two London based businessmen, Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil al-Banna, though they still languish in Guantanamo Bay with little evident public sympathy. In November 2002, al-Rawi and al-Banna were arrested and questioned by British police at Gatwick airport. They were released without charge and allowed to travel as they had intended to Gambia, where they own a peanut oil factory. On arrival in the Gambia they were rearrested by the local sceret police - allegedly at request of the British government - detained for two months and questioned by the US agents. They were then flown to the CIA interrogation centre at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, before being transferred to Camp Delta in Guantanamo Bay where they are held for alleged links to "al-Qaida".

Refusing to help the men, the UK government has maintained that it can not press the US authorities over the men's fate because they are not British citizens. Mr al-Rawi is an Iraqi national who has been living legally in Britain for 19 years and Mr al-Banna is a Jordanian who was granted refugee status in Britain three years ago.

If, as allegations reported in The Guardian (11 July 2003) and documented by the CCR (see below) suggest, UK and US intelligence services orchestrated their arrest in Gambia and their subsequent transfer to Guantanamo, doesn't that warrant a public enquiry?

A covert experiment in injustice?

Gareth Pierce, solicitor, believes that we are witnessing "a covert experiment aimed at pooling access to internationally condemned and outlawed methods of investigation". There is now "two way traffic" between western intelligence services and their counterparts in oppressive regimes.

This is testimony that is borne out by the Arar, al-Rawi and al-Banna cases, the use of secret evidence in the SIAC hearings on the foreign nationals interned in Belmarsh by the UK and its pending use in the military tribunals planned for the Guatanamo detainees.


Chronology of Events in Maher Arar's arrest and deportation

Statement to the media by Maher Arar, 4 November, 2003

From Amnesty International, Canada: AI Canada

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