Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Canada: Secret Trials and Torture

Originally published in Get on the Bus, January 2006

Imagine being held in solitary confinement. Imagine being alone in your cell for 24 hours a day. Imagine being kept in that cell for years. Imagine that you are being kept in prison without having any charges laid against you, without being able to know why you are being held, or even when you will be released, if at all.
For Mahmoud Jaballah, this scenario isn’t just a nightmarish thing to think about, it’s his daily reality. Jaballah, along with four other men, is being held without charge on what is called a “security certificate”. The men have so far spent a combined 223 months behind bars.
Security certificates allow the Canadian government to arrest anyone and hold them indefinitely without any formal charges being brought against them. They also allow for the deportation of non-Canadian citizens. Arresting people without charge is a serious (and frankly scary) act that runs counter to hundreds of years of basic democratic traditions and rights. But it gets worse.
Security certificates allow the government to hold people in prison without even telling them why they have been arrested. Also, all ‘evidence’ against them is kept secret. This means that once arrested, the detainees have no reasonable means of defending themselves, since they do not know what they are being charged with or what, if any, proof exists to back up the charges.
If this sounds insane it’s because it is. The potential for abuse at the hands of the government is huge, and the potential for injustice is practically guaranteed. Take the case of Tarek Khafagy, who was arrested on a security certificate in 2000 by the RCMP. He was accused of plotting to bomb the Israeli consulate and was held for 5 months in prison. It turns out though that the only evidence against him was a tip from a man who owed Mr. Khafagy money and wanted him out of the way so that he wouldn’t have to repay him.
It hardly needs to be emphasized the danger that exists when completely unaccountable police and spies (whose main social role is to protect the basic interests of this system and repress any resistance to the system) have this sort of arbitrary power over anyone in the country.
In the meantime, five men, three of whom have children, continue to be held in jail in conditions so terrible that one of them, Hassan Almrei, launched a hunger strike to draw attention to their plight. And, the spectre of sudden arbitrary kidnapping by the government hangs over us all.
Getting Syria to Do the Dirty Work
The five men in Toronto are not the only ones who have come under police-state attack from the Canadian government. It is worth remembering here the case of Maher Arar. Arar is a Canadian citizen who was deported to Syria by American officials with the consent and knowledge of the Canadian government. While in Syria he was repeatedly tortured with the most horrific and dehumanizing means. All of this despite the fact that he had no links to terrorism. Fortunately Arar has been released and is back in Canada. But shouldn’t Arar’s story have woken up officials to just how unjust the security certificates are? You’d think that, but you’d be wrong. In fact, the Canadian government has shown no interest in abandoning security certificates. (see Maher Arar’s story in his own words in the sidebar)
Several Other Canadians have been tortured in Syria with the complicity of our government: Abdullah Almaki was arrested in Syria in 2003 and was held for 22 months. He faced regular beating and torture. Syrian officials told him they arrested him based on information coming from the Canadian government. Ahmad Al Maati was arrested in Syria based on the information given to them by The Canadian Security and Intelligence Service. He was tortured, forced to ‘confess’ to crimes and was then released in Egypt after 790 days’ imprisonment without charge. Muayyed Nureddin was arrested while en route from Iraq to Toronto in Syria. He was tortured in Syria and also released without charge. (source: cbc.ca)

And the Saudis Too…
In 2000, William Sampson was a Canadian citizen working in Saudi Arabia when he was arrested out of the blue. The Saudis wished to frame him and several other Westerners for a string of car bombings in the country. Saudi Arabian police tortured him repeatedly. They beat him with cane and an axe-handle. They stomped on his genitals. They even anally raped him –an account of which is given by Sampson himself in his book, Confessions of an Innocent Man: Torture and Survival in a Saudi Prison. The horror and terror experienced by Sampson is beyond any description. So what did Canadian officials do aid one of their citizens facing this kind of unspeakable abuse? Well, the short answer is not very fucking much. Embassy officials believed what the Saudis told them, and refused to look into many of the obvious signs that indicated Sampson was being tortured. Fortunately, Sampson was eventually released and exonerated of any wrongdoing. He has since renounced his Canadian citizenship.

Let’s Not Forget Iran…
Zahra Kazemi was an Iranian-Canadian photojournalist who was arrested in Iran in June of 2003 after taking photos of a student-led protest against the Iranian regime. A little over two weeks later she had died in Iranian police custody. Although Iran originally tried to claim she had died of natural causes, it was later revealed by Shahram Azam, a doctor in Iran’s Defence Ministry that Kazemi suffered torture in various ways: She was brutally raped, beaten to the point of having broken finger, a fractured skull, swelling around her head, multiple body bruises and had deep scratches that were evidence of flogging (whipping). Canadian officials visited Kazemi several times while she was in custody, but once again, no alarm bells were sounded, and nothing was done to prevent her mistreatment. After her death, Canada’s inaction was appalling. Aside from some mild diplomatic censures, Canada has retained normal relations with Iran.


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