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Canada Charges Alleged Syrian Torturer in Absentia

Having been sent to a Syrian prison in the early days of the US War on Terror, Maher Arar was tortured at the behest of Western intelligence agencies. Now the Canadian government is charging a Syrian officer for his role in the incident.

A Syrian-born Canadian citizen, Maher Arar was traveling in New York City in 2002 when he was apprehended by immigration authorities. Based on a tip from the Canadian government, Arar was sent a Syrian prison on suspicion of terrorism.

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Under national security procedures set up by the Bush administration, Syrian intelligence officers could then torture and interrogate Arar with impunity, beyond the jurisdiction of the US legal system.

Arar’s 2006 court case against the US officials responsible for his extradition was unsuccessful. But on Tuesday, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police filed a suit against George Solloum, the intelligence officer who tortured Arar during his time in Syria.

"The charges, the first-ever in Canada for torture in another country, send a strong message around the world that torturers that commit their terrible abuses in far-away prison cells may well find their crimes judged in a Canadian court," Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, told reporters.

© AP Photo / THIERRY CHARLIERMaher Arar, right, confers with one of his lawyers moments before he addresses the European Parliament Committee.
Maher Arar, right, confers with one of his lawyers moments before he addresses the European Parliament Committee. - Sputnik International
Maher Arar, right, confers with one of his lawyers moments before he addresses the European Parliament Committee.

The result of a 10-year investigation, Arar welcomed the announcement.

"I certainly hope that George Salloum will be found alive, arrested and extradited to Canada to face Canadian justice," reads his statement.

While the charges may offer Arar and his family a sign of hope, Canadian authorities have no idea where Salloum is. They’ve asked Interpol for assistance in tracking his whereabouts, but even if he were found, the extradition process could prove difficult.

It’s also hard to ignore the fact that both the Canadian and US governments are shirking their own accountability. After his arrest, Arar was cleared of all suspicions, and in 2007 received $10 million from the Canadian government as compensation.

The US, however, has done nothing to acknowledge its own role in the abuse. This is especially shocking given the revelations of CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou. The former CIA analyst, who was himself imprisoned for his role in unveiling the US torture program, alleged that the US tortured Arar with the full knowledge that he was innocent.

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"I can tell you that a lot of people inside the CIA objected to [Arar’s arrest]," Kiriakou said during an interview in April, according to the Globe and Mail. "[They said], 'This is the wrong guy. He hasn’t done anything.'"

He describes one officer, in particular, insisting that Arar be apprehended anyway.

"He’s never received an apology from the United States," Kiriakou said. "His name continues to be smeared. As far as we know, he’s still on a watch list."

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