January 21, 2004


Ottawa Citizen reporter Juliet O'Neill, who received a leaked copy of the CSIS/RCMP security dossier on Maher Arar had her home and office raided by the Mounties today. Presumably the security chaps are trying to find out who the anti-Arar whistleblower in their own organization is, through O'Neill.

I've been following the Obsidian Wings series on this issue with interest... Katherine drew many of the same conclusions drawn here earlier re how Arar landed up where he did. On the other hand, Canadian security officials seem to steadfastly believe, even if they can't prove it, that the group they were lumping Arar in with was up to something. They could still be right of course... but the fact is that any evidence so far made public against Arar and the others that is even remotely damning seems to have been derived from Syrian torture sessions, not from any of the kinds of investigative work we would normally trust in any other case.

(Certainly, it would seem as a matter of logic that torture-derived evidence needs to be regarded with at least as much skepticism as accomplice testimony... useless unless corroborated from another source.)

One still hopes there was more than intuition working here, though, despite all the evidence that there wasn't. And it's certainly worth noting that not *all* of the four Canadians arrested as part of the putative "Ottawa Ring" appear as non-threatening as Arar does. Whether at least a couple of them (other than Arar) were engaged in plotting actual terrorist activities, or, as seems more likely, were involved in the shipping of computers to Al Qaeda buyers, is still unclear. My faith in the Canadian authorities is still strong enough that I'd still suggest not getting too black-helicoptery on that count just yet.

Case in point: Ahmad Abou El-Maati. At least two degrees of separation from Arar, true, but, unlike Arar's more credible accounting of his version of events, E'-Maati's claim of innocence has a number of odd logical gaps. For instance, as Katherine puts it: "[Border] Guards find in his 18 wheeler 'a schematic map of Ottawa marking government buildings and nuclear research facilities.' He is interrogated for eight hours, and denies owning the map--but he later showed it to a friend: 'He showed me the map. And the map had literally all kinds of government installations,' said a man who used to know him."

Um, I'm sorry, but even in August, 2001, when this occurred, is it all likely that a U.S. border agent, faced with a trucker with a spy map that he claims is not his, is after several hours of interrogation, going to give said map BACK to the guy and let him go? Why would they do that? If he doesn't know how it ended up in his truck, why would he care if the border guards kept it? Or if the guards did keep it, then how did he end up with another copy of a map that wasn't his? Given the anonymity of the source, too, one has to assume this is at least partly pleasant fiction. Whatever happened at the border in August, 2001, it wasn't what El-Maati told his friends happened.

The point is this is almost certainly a case of guilt by tenuous association, rather than a security agency picking up random Ottawa-area Syrians. Certainly Arar was targetted as part of someone's logical thought process, however bizarre and insupportable that process might seem to an impartial observer now (Two degrees of separation from this more shadowy El-Maati dude? Is thatreally all that it was?) And obviously the checks and balances on that process seem insufficient now given the consequences Arar would suffer. But even knowing the illogic would be reassuring to many: I know a number of Canadians who have curtailed American travel plans, including stopovers on international flights, because they fear an Arar-recurrence. The only way that anti-American miasma is ever going to truly lift, I fear, is if we lift off the veils a little further and let the public get a better idea of what really happened in this case, from beginning to end.

Posted by BruceR at 05:10 PM