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Second Canadian Details Torture in Syrian Prison
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26/02/2004
Second Canadian Details Torture in Syrian Prison

Major Questions Arise about Role of RCMP and CSIS in Setting Up Canadians for Torture Overseas


"A Syrian official told me that I would not see the sun again," traumatized Canadian tells press conference.

Lawyer says, "Mr. Nureddin's case, and Mr. Arar before it, appear to indicate that the RCMP and CSIS, or both of them, are moving into another form of targeting: Canadian citizens."

(report from the Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada and its growing subsidiary, the Campaign to Stop the Detention and Torture of Canadians Abroad - e-mail: [email]tasc@web.ca[/email])

TORONTO, FEBRUARY 26, 2004 -- It's the second time in the past few months that a Canadian has gone before the cameras to discuss his torture at the hands of Syrian authorities. It's the second time that serious questions have been raised about the potential role of CSIS and the RCMP in sharing the kind of information with overseas intelligence agencies that has prompted the torture of a Canadian detained abroad.

And there was an eerie sense at today's Toronto press conference with torture survivor Muayyad Nureddin -- who was held without charge or explanation just over one month in a Syrian prison and released in January -- that it may not be the last time we see such a sight: a quiet, dignified statement about the terror of torture visited upon a human being who made the mistake of travelling abroad while Muslim or Arab. Indeed, as Amnesty International's Canadian General Secretary Alex Neve pointed out, "two other Canadians, Abdullah Almalki and Anwar Al-Bouchi remain in Syrian jails. Reports of their torture emerged months ago. Canada must redouble its efforts on their behalf."

And yet there are still others. Recently detained overseas and just released from Egypt are Helmy Elsherief, a 64-year-old man who was "questioned" for two full weeks in Egypt before being released, and Ahmad Abou El-Maati, held over two years, tortured in Syria and then transferred to an Egyptian prison.

Israel has detained Windsor, Ontario resident Jamal Akkal based on what appears to be a trumped-up allegation that he was forced to confess to in a language he does not read nor speak after 20 days of round-the-clock interrogation.

In the U.S., Canadians are also held behind bars. There's the mysterious case of Mansour Jabarah (who was recently convicted in a secret trial of a slew of alleged crimes after apparently being kidnapped by CSIS while in Oman and turned over to the U.S.). Recently, Somali-Canadian Mohammad Warsame was arrested in Minneapolis and, after being held as a material witness in an undisclosed location in connection with a case related to Sept. 11, 2001, was indicted under the (recently declared unconstitutional) law against provision of materiel aid to a terrorist group, yet no details have been made public.

There's also the cases of Canadians held at the illegal Guantanamo Bay "enemy combatants" camp, including teenager Omar Khadr. This disturbing trend, especially with respect to those who call Canada home, seems to follow a particular pattern. Mr. Nureddin's attorney, Barbara Jackman, notes "CSIS has a long-standing practice--and the RCMP before it and still--of focusing and targetting of persons who are associated with particular centres. Certainly the Muslim centre is now being targetted. In the past it's been Tamils, Kurds, Sikhs, because of their association with particular ethnic centres.

"Associations with other persons and with particular centres have formed the basis of security certificates imposed on non-citizens in Canada, like Mr. Jaballah and Mr. Almrei and a number of others. In security certificate proceedings the government only needs to establish that the case might possibly be true, so inferences are drawn based merely on associations with persons or a particular centre that's a concern to CSIS. Mr. Nureddin's case, and Mr. Arar before it, appear to indicate that the RCMP and CSIS, or both of them, are moving into another form of targetting: Canadian citizens."

The unsettling conclusion to be drawn from these practices is clear. "Canadian citizens can't be made subject of security certificates because they're Canadian citizens," Jackman points out in reference to the mechanisms whereby secret trials in Canada are initiated, and under which five Muslim men have been detained without charge or bail a collective 124 months.

"So what appears to be happening is that CSIS or the RCMP are opportunistically taking advantage of times when people are travelling to provide information to other governments to get them to do their dirty work, to ask questions using means that would not be acceptable in Canada and that are not condoned internationally and in fact are prohibited internationally ... at this point in time, anybody -- any Canadian citizen or permanent resident from the Middle East who's ever been questioned by CSIS or the RCMP -- should be worried about travelling. They can't take a chance that if they travel they won't be detained in some other country because CSIS has passed information on about them." Nureddin's friend, Tawfik Kettanah, asks, "How do you feel when you know your fellow citizen is passing information about you that resulted in your torture and humiliation? I say definitely it's betrayal. This is not only about a fellow citizen, but an organization whose job is to protect the entire nation's security."

Many questions arose as a result of today's revelations. Mr. Nureddin himself states clearly: "I want to know why I was detained in Syria. I want to know if CSIS or any other Canadian security agency was responsible for my detention and torture in Syria. I want the Canadian government to hold a public inquiry so that I and the Canadian public know exactly what happened. I do not want this to happen to others ever again. It is wrong."

Other important questions arise. Why was it that the Canadian consular official in Syria learned of Nureddin's pending release not from Syrian authorities, but from CSIS? Why was it that the same questions asked by CSIS agents at Pearson airport in September, 2003, before Nureddin travelled overseas, were asked by Nureddin's torturers in a Syrian prison three months later? (Those questions concerned the cash he was carrying for his own and other families in Iraq (a fairly common practice for many in immigrant communities who visit overseas); questions about two individuals associated with the Salaheddin mosque in Scarborough and about another individual who has since left Canada; questions about whether Nureddin worked in Salaheddin's accounting department; and how many times he had visited Iraq.

Why is it that Nureddin, while crossing the Turkish-Syrian border earlier in his ill-fated trip, was again asked questions about the Muslim centre, when he had quit, whether he belonged to any organization? At that time his car was stripped down and searched, and his money counted. While today's conference called for the terms of the Arar inquiry to be broadened to include the case of Mr. Nureddin, it also served as another reminder of a question which demands its own inquiry (perhaps even moreso than the shocking -- yet not unexpected -- disappearing act of $100 million into Liberal patronage coffers.)

That question is on the minds of many refugee families, especially those whose loved ones have been subject to security certificates. After someone like Mr. Nureddin comes home from the hell of a Syrian torture chamber and shares his horrific story, how can the federal government proceed with plans to try and deport Syrian refugee Hassan Almrei, now 28 months in solitary confinement, knowing full well the substantial likelihood that Almrei will face torture or murder? How can the Canadian government, despite its own conclusion that they will be tortured and likely killed if returned to Egypt, proceed with efforts to deport secret trial detainees Mahmoud Jaballah (father of six, held since August 2001) and Mohammad Mahjoub (father of three, held since June 2000) to Egypt? How can Canada proceed with similar cases against Algerian refugee Mohamed Harkat (still behind bars in Ottawa as his wife Sophie Harkat wages an unending battle to free the detainees) and Adil Charkaoui, an art student and permanent resident from Morocco separated by concrete and steel bars from his loving family, in Montreal?

Given the soundbite nature of the news, it seems especially important given the gravity of this issue to reproduce below a transcript of today's press conference statements. Those who participated are Muayyad Nureddin, his friend Tawfik Kettanah, Alex Neve of Amnesty International and lawyer Barbara Jackman.

TAWFIK KETTANAH

(thanks media and all those who helped bring Muayyad home)
This case started when I received a call from Muayyad's brother that he was being detained in Syria. His friends and I worked to get the message to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the media. The media and interviewed some of the people who knew Muayyad. I later learned that CSIS visited the other two gentlemen who sent money with Muayyad to their families in Iraq. These gentlemen and I were approached by CSIS in the same way and had been asked similar questions about Muayyad and the money, which seemed to be a concern to the security agency in the airport at the time when Muayyad was about to leave Canada. I personally never accused CSIS of planning this and the last comment I made to CTV News I remember was I need to hear from Muayyad to pass a judgment. I learned later that some newspapers quoted me as accusing CSIS, and this is not true. Now that Muayyad is back I am very concerned that there are indications that CSIS may have played a role in this case either directly or indirectly.

MUAYYAD NUREDDIN

My name is Muayyed Nureddin. I am an Iraqi Canadian. I am a computer programmer analyst. I completed a three year degree program at Centennial College in 2000. Before this I studied geology for two years at a university in Iraq.

In the past I was the principal of the Salaheddin Islamic School from January, 2001 to June, 2003. I have never been a member of a political party or joined a religious movement. I am not a member of a political party or a religious movement. I am not interested in joining a political party or a religious movement.

I was visited by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service sometime in 1999 or 2000. I was asked: If I had been to Afghanistan - I said no. If I knew any Egyptians, involved in the Muslim movement - I said I did not know. Where I went to pray - I said to many mosques including the Medina Masjid, Markham and Salaheddin. Sometime later CSIS visited me. I was not home. They talked to my room mate. They did not leave their card and did not return.

On September 16, 2003 I went to Pearson International Airport. I was planning to fly to Germany via Amsterdam to meet up with my brother and travel with him by car to Iraq to visit our family. When I was in the boarding line up, I was approached by two men who identified themselves as Canadian security agents. They escorted me to the sitting area and questioned me for about 45 minutes. They asked me: How many times I had visited Iraq - I told them two times before. How much money I was carrying with me - I had already declared my money. I gave them the details about whose money I had, because I was taking money from friends in Canada for their families in Iraq. They asked if I knew three gentlemen, two Canadians, Aly Hindy and Subhat Allah Rasul, and one landed immigrant, Hassan Farhat, who left Canada in 2001. I told them that I knew these men. Two were friends and one was my former boss. They asked if I was involved in the accounting department of the Islamic Centre, where I had been the principal. - I told them no.

After this 8 customs officers and a dog searched me and my luggage. I was allowed to board my flight. I met my brother in Germany and we traveled by car through Europe to Turkey, then to Syria and Iraq. I was held up at the Turkish-Syrian border for about 4 hours. Our car was searched - even the doors and inside the ceiling. My money was counted. I was questioned: Did I work at a Muslim Centre - I said yes, but I had quit. When did I quit - I said in June, 2003 Did I belong to any organization - I said no. When I was in the border office, the Turkish official received a call. I heard him say "why were they exaggerating" as I had nothing. When he hung up the phone the officer told me that they had to check me as they had received a report from higher officials. I had no problems after this. My brother and I traveled to Syria and Iraq.

In November, 2003 I traveled with one of my brothers to Jordan to arrange to have the cars released, which I had shipped from Canada, so that my brother and I could bring them to Iraq for resale. On my way back to Iraq, a Jordanian border official asked me if I had been told to report to any office in Jordan. I said no. He was surprised that I had not been told to report in Jordan. On December 11, 2003, I traveled by car with my mother, two sisters and three brothers to the Syrian border. I was planning to board a flight in Damascus to return to Canada via Amsterdam. One brother was to travel with me to Damascus and the rest of my family were to return to Syria. I was detained. My luggage was searched and then given to my brother. He was told to leave. We agreed he would go onto Damascus and wait for me there. I learned later that he stayed in Damascus a few days and then returned to Iraq to tell my family that I was detained in Syria. My family contacted my friend Tawfik Kettanah in Canada to ask him to help find out what had happened to me. At the border, I was searched and handcuffed to a bed.

A Syrian official told me that I would not see the sun again. I was questioned about my background. I overheard a Syrian official telling someone on the phone that I had not been detained when I traveled through Syria in September, 2003 because they only received a report on me on November 14, 2003. I was transferred that afternoon to a military detention centre in Kamashly. I was kept in a small 1 x 2 metre cell. One officer joked about me hiding a bomb in my shoe. I told him I was only trying to return to Canada.

The next evening I was transferred to the Palestine Branch of Syrian Military Intelligence in Damascus. I was detained at the Palestine Branch from December 12, 2003 to January 13, 2004. During this time, I was detained in an underground cell about 5 x 6 metres. There were 30 prisoners in the same cell and by the time I left there were 40 prisoners. I was interrogated a number of times. I was asked: What money I had brought to Iraq. I told them I had about $10,000. They told me exactly how much I had brought - $10,500 US and 4,000 Euros. They asked if I had given the money to an organization. I said no. They asked about the same three men that Canadian security agents had asked me about at the airport when I was leaving Canada in September, 2003. They asked me about the Salaheddin Centre. I told them I worked there before as school principal, and had quit. I went through one terrible torture session. I have never experienced this before and never want to again. I was taken to an interrogation room and questioned. I was left to think about what information I would give.

My interrogators returned and I was told to undress, but for my underwear. I was made to lie on the ground on my stomach. I was soaked with cold water and a ceiling fan was put on. I was interrogated again. The officers did not like my answers. I was made to lift my legs, still lying on my stomach. The soles of my feet were lashed with a cable more than a dozen times. I was told to stand and they poured cold water on my feet. I was made to walking, while standing in one place for ten minutes. Then they repeated the same process twice more. Each time I was asked for more information. They called me a liar, when I had nothing new to say to them. I was sent back to my cell and told I would be called back for more questions and that I had better think more about my answers. I was told the chair would be used next time. This is a chair frame into which a person is pushed and then his back bent. I could not walk for a number of days after this session. I lived with the constant fear that it would be repeated. I could not sleep. Every time any guard came to the door I was afraid. It was mental torture for me after the physical torture.

Early in January, 2004, I was made to sign statements without being permitted to read them. an outline of my family information, which appeared to be the statement that I had previously been told to write out. what appeared to be a statement which I had been made to write saying that I had been treated nicely while detained. a statement prepared by the jail authorities, which I think covered the answers I had provided to their questions. On January 13, 2004 I was told to get ready as I was being released. I was called to the Director's office and my passport, flight ticket, and other belongings were returned to me. I was taken to another office and told by Syrian officers to say that I had been treated nicely. I was taken to the Branch director's office and when asked I told him that I had been treated nicely. I was introduced to Leo Martel from the Canadian Embassy and left the prison with him. I spent time at the Embassy that day and the next and told them what had happened to me. I was taken to the Sheraton Hotel overnight. The Canadian government covered the cost of my hotel and flight back to Canada. I was told to sign a repayment agreement. I now owe them $3,073. I was told by Leo Martel that CSIS had advised the Canadian Embassy that I was to be released the morning of January 13, 2004.

Since my return to Canada, I have fully cooperated with CSIS. I met with them. They told me that they were involved in securing my release. They told me that I am not a person of concern to them. It has become clear that there is a pattern of people who held my job at the Islamic School being viewed with suspicion by the authorities. Helmy El Sherief was the principal at one time. He was held in an Egyptian jail for close to one month this year. Mahmoud Jaballah was the principal at one time. He has been held in a Canadian jail for more than two years. I was principal at one time and I have been tortured in Syria. I did know both of these men. I know nothing about them doing anything illegal. I have never done anything illegal. Why have I and they been targeted.

I have many questions: I want to know why I was detained in Syria. I want to know if CSIS or any other Canadian security agency was responsible for my detention and torture in Syria. I want the Canadian government to hold a public inquiry so that I and the Canadian public know exactly what happened. I do not want this to happen to others ever again. It is wrong. I thank the Canadian media and every person who helped in securing my release.

TAWFIK KETTANAH

It strongly appears that there may have been some government departments that passed information to Turkey, Jordan and Syria about him which resulted in him being detained in Syria. If the Canadian government takes part in such actions, that means we risk falling into the category of police state. I know and believe Prime Minister Paul Martin does not consider, or want, Canada to be one. I call on the Prime Minister to sincerely get to the bottom of this case and use all possible means to bring justice to this case. Now I want to ask a question: how do you feel when you know your fellow citizen is passing information about you that resulted in your torture and humiliation? I say definitely it's betrayal. This is not only about a fellow citizen, but an organization whose job is to protect the entire nation's security.

ALEX NEVE, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL

The right to be free from torture is one of the most fundamental of all human rights. It applies to all people at all times without exception. No one should be tortured ever. Mr. Nureddin's description of arbitrary arrest leading to torture is not, sadly, the first time that Canadians have heard about torture in Syria., His alarming testimony comes of course on the heels of the frightening experience of Maher Arar, whose case is now to be the subject of a pubic inquiry.

The testimony Mr. Nureddin has provided regarding torture by military intelligence officials in Damascus is detailed, credible and consistent with well-established patterns of torture which Amnesty International has documented for many years in Syria.

Canada's response now to what Mr. Nureddin has suffered must be immediate and it must be two-fold. First, Canada must intervene clearly and unequivocally with Syrian authorities, expressing its outrage with what happened to Me. Nureddin, and making a firm demand that torture in Syria come to an end.

There are several elements needed here. First, two other Canadians, Abdullah Almalki and Anwar Al-Bouchi remain in Syrian jails. Reports of their torture emerged months ago. Canada must redouble its efforts on their behalf. Second, hundreds of other Syrian detainees, many held for political reasons, face the risk of torture every day. Canada must speak also on their behalf. Third, Canada must insist on an impartial investigation into Mr. Nureddin's allegations.

Four months since the release of Maher Arar, Syrians have not launched such an investigation into his allegations, and Canada's voice in pressing for such investigations has been notably and unacceptably silent. If Syrian officials are not prepared to investigate, they must be pressed to allow an international expert to do so, such as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture. Fourth, Canada must also become an outspoken champion for justice for Mauled Nureddin. That means that those responsible for his torture must be brought to justice. It also means that Mr. Nureddin must be assisted in pursuing compensation, including here, in Canadian courts, if necessary.

But the second very critical element to this case is the need for Canada to examine its own role. The questions are many and are of profound importance. Did Canadian law enforcement or security agencies provide information that led to Mr. Nureddin's arrest and torture. if so, what did they do to guard against that information-sharing leading to serious human rights violations, including torture. Were they involved in any way during Mr. Nureddin's detention. Were they aware that he was at risk of torture during his detention? Were they clear and forceful in their efforts to protect him from torture? What Mr. Nureddin's case tells us is that what happened to Maher Arar is not an isolated and exceptional case. And there are of course worrying possibilities that similar concerns are at the heart of other recent cases, such as that of Ahmad El-Maati and Helmy Elsherief. Amnesty International has therefore called on the Canadian government to broaden the terms of reference to the Arar inquiry to include Mr. Nureddin's case and to specifically ask Mr. Justice O'Connor to consider what steps need to be taken to guard against the activities of Canadian law enforcement and security agencies in the area of national security leading to violations in the area outside of Canada of the basic rights of anyone. Specifically, Mr. Justice O'Connor should be asked to examine the facts of Mr. Nureddin's case. He should be asked to recommend a new, comprehensive process for ensuring thorough, impartial and transparent investigation of cases such as Mr. Arar's and Mr. Nureddin's. And he should be asked to recommend legal policy and institutional reforms that may be needed to ensure that the actions of Canadian officials do not directly or indirectly lead to human rights violations outside Canada. No one should ever be tortured. Canada should never play a role in torture, be it direct or indirect, be it through turning a blind eye to its occurrence. It's time now to make sure that Canada is a champion of the right to be free from torture everywhere and is not a witting or unwitting accomplice to torture in any country.

BARBARA JACKMAN

I'm an immigration lawyer and I've been involved in security cases since the 1970s, when it was the RCMP Security Service and then later with both CSIS and the RCMP. I think what happened with Mr. Nureddin should be put in context. CSIS has a long-standing practice--and the RCMP before it and still--of focusing and targetting of persons who are associated with particular centres. Certainly the Muslim centre is now being targetted. In the past it's been Tamils, Kurds, Sikhs, because of their association with particular ethnic centres.

Associations with other persons and with particular centres have formed the basis of security certificates imposed on non-citizens in Canada, like Mr. Jaballah and Mr. Almrei and a number of others. In security certificate proceedings the government only needs to establish that the case might possibly be true, so inferences are drawn based merely on associations with persons or a particular centre that's a concern to CSIS. Mr. Nureddin's case, and Mr. Arar before it, appear to indicate that the RCMP and CSIS, or both of them, are moving into another form of targetting: Canadian citizens.

I think it's important to realize that under the anti-terrorism act, there is no case to make against Mr. Nureddin or a number of the other persons. Canadian citizens can't be made subject of security certificates because they're Canadian citizens. So what appears to be happening is that CSIS or the RCMP are opportunistically taking advantage of times when people are travelling to provide information to other governments to get them to do their dirty work, to ask questions using means that would not be acceptable in Canada and that are not condoned internationally and in fact are prohibited internationally.

While the United States is returning people directly to countries to be tortured, it would appear that our services --or at least the question is raised -- that our security services are taking advantage of people's normal travels to have other countries question them using improper moves to do so. I think that it's important for the Canadian government to investigate what happened and like Alex Neve said, Mr. Nureddin and I would like his case to be added to Mr. Arar's inquiry. It's important not just in terms of what's happened but I think at this point in time, anybody, any Canadian citizen or permanent resident from the Middle East who's ever been questioned by CSIS or the RCMP should be worried about travelling. They can't take a chance that if they travel they won't be detained in some other country because CSIS has passed information on about them. That seems to be what is happening here and it's a very very serious concern which the government needs to investigate. I wrote a letter to Anne McLellan on behalf of Mr. Nureddin asking her to add him to Mr. Arar's inquiry, to do a second phase so to speak in order to investigate what happened to him and to emphasize that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service -- not just the RCMP -- needs to be investigated in terms of the practices that appear to be happening at the present time.

SOURCE: Montreal Muslims Network