While the backlash against Maher Arar’s $10.5m payday from the Federal Government has begun (see Peter Bowal’s National Post column, http://www.canada.com/nationalpost/news/issuesideas/story.html?id=5a75e536-19fe-4a9b-ad71-04176feb2205 and Mark Cripps’ “Would You Spend a Year in Jail…“), the fact is that, politically, Stephen Harper’s government had little other choice. Justice O’Connor’s report, and former RCMP Commissioner Zaccardelli’s actions, left the government little wiggle room: O’Connor made it clear that he believes Arar was innocent; the RCMP was likely guilty of, at the very least, incompetence, and public opinion was clearly on Arar’s side. Further, Harper had the added temptation of accepting blame on behalf of the former Liberal government – displaying typical Harperian savvy in having the Liberals applaud their own indictment.
More difficult to explain, however, is the Bush Administration’s unwillingness to exonerate Arar. Is it simply because Arar is still holding law suits over their head? Unlikely, as his cases have been tossed out of every court so far. Is it because Arar’s lead attorney is Barbara Olshansky, leader of the Impeach Bush movement? More likely a factor, but still not fully satisfying. Or is it because the Americans have info on Arar and his wife, Monia Mazigh, that tie him closely to extremists?
Looking at two public documents – Arar’s own New York State legal filing against U.S. Government officials, and the Ottawa Citizen’s exhaustive December report on the Arar case, we can see that it is clear the Americans collected some serious evidence in 2001-02 that they must still believe holds up to scrutiny today.
First, from the Citizen report. After having his Palm Pilot and laptop computer seized by customs officials at the Ottawa Airport on the evening of December 20, 2001:
…early the following morning, J.P. Theriault, the regional intelligence officer for Canada Customs, drove to the airport. He copied down as much information as he could from Mr. Arar’s laptop and Palm Pilot, including names and phone numbers. The information was uploaded into A-O Canada’s Supertext database and later sent to authorities in the
It is certainly possible that info gleaned from this evidence-gathering operation tied Maher Arar to other terror suspects in the United States, who have no connection to Canada and who Ottawa was not aware of.
Next, from Arar’s U.S. court filing:
35. Early that evening (September 27, 2002 in New York), an immigration officer came to Mr. Arar’s cell. He asked that Mr. Arar “volunteer” to be sent to
Syria. Mr. Arar refused, insisting that he be sent to Canada or
Switzerland. Angered by this response, the officer stated that the
United States government had a “special interest” in Mr. Arar. The officer instructed Mr. Arar to sign a form. Even though Mr. Arar was not allowed to read the form, he signed it, fearing adverse consequences if he did not do so.
This paragraph has a couple of interesting nuggets. First, Arar tells us that the U.S. had “special interest” in him at that time. This could relate to the contact info found in his Palm and laptop nine months earlier. It could also relate to his work with his employer, engineering software firm The Mathworks, which does major consulting work for the Aerospace and Defense industry. Second, it refers to a “form” that Arar claims he signed without reading, and only out of fear. This is clearly a pre-emptive strike to discredit what he knows is damning evidence on the “form”. Sounds like this was probably a pre-typed confession based on the 13 hours of interrogation he had just endured after arriving at JFK from Switzerland (his attorneys would certainly not use the word “confession” for its damaging implications). Whatever it was, the court filing quoted above certainly indicates that Maher Arar is afraid of the contents of this “form”, trying to make sure it is rejected as legitimate evidence.
As I have written before: I have nothing against Maher Arar if he was simply an innocent person caught up in a big misunderstanding. But his grandstanding against the American government, and his enrichment at the hands of the Canadian taxpayers, has quite appropriately opened him up to the highest level of scrutiny.
In the next couple of days, I will follow-up with posts on: possible reasons why the Americans will not make public their evidence against Arar; possible reasons why they sent him overseas instead of taking him into custody in the US; and an examination of possible inconsistencies in the different accounts of Arar’s story of 2001-2003.