Last month a 36-year-old Syrian-Canadian, Maher Arar, became to Canadians what David Hicks is to Australians. Both are victims of the war on terror, although at least in the case of Arar, the Canadian Government was decent enough to hold a commission of inquiry which recommended compensation for his wrongful arrest, detention and humiliation.
Arar is a Canadian citizen. An engineer by profession, he and his wife were placed on a list of people suspected of having links to al-Qaida by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the equivalent of our Federal Police. In fact, so confident was the RCMP about Ottawa-based Arar's terrorist connections they put him on a flow chart of suspected associates of Osama bin Laden.
When Arar went to the US in 2002 - en route to Canada after having been in Europe - he was arrested and, after a middle of the night out-of-session court hearing where he had no legal representation, deported to Syria where he was delivered into the hands of the brutal Syrian Intelligence Service. This service tortured Arar mercilessly and he now suffers headaches and post-traumatic stress disorder. He was forced to sleep in a cramped cell for more than 10 months and today regularly suffers nightmares.
When he finally returned to Canada and complained of torture at the hands of the Syrians, Canadian Government officials told their ministers not to believe his claims. In fact, some government officials took it upon themselves to leak information to the media that further damaged Arar's reputation by continuing to claim he had terrorist links and that his claims of torture by the Syrians were exaggerated.
Recently, a commission of inquiry into the treatment of Arar, headed by Ontario Justice Dennis O'Connor, completely exonerated Arar and was scathing about the behaviour of the RCMP.
There was never any evidence to justify calling Arar a terror suspect, Justice O'Connor found; the RCMP's conduct was unprofessional and it acted without any regard for Arar's rights.
As well, Justice O'Connor observed that because respect for human rights should never be taken for granted "information should never be provided to a foreign country where there is a credible risk that it will cause or contribute to the use of torture".
This last finding is one the Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty might care to memorise, given his unashamed preparedness to let Indonesian authorities arrest the Bali Nine when he knew that a likely consequence would be execution for some, if not all of them.
Arar's case provides many lessons.
First, at least the former Canadian government of Paul Martin (which lost office to Conservative Stephen Harper earlier this year) admitted its grave errors and allowed a commission of inquiry to find out the truth about Arar's disgraceful treatment.
By contrast, the Australian Government sits on its hands while one of its citizens, David Hicks, languishes at Guantanamo Bay, unable to get a fair trial. The Howard Government's errors of judgment and inhumanity towards Hicks ought to be the subject of an independent inquiry - and the ALP should promise to establish one if elected to office next year.
Second, when Attorney-General Philip Ruddock and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer assure the Australian people claims by David Hicks that he has been tortured in Guantanamo Bay are groundless, the case of Arar ought to tell us to take such assurances with a grain of salt.
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