Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Terrifying misconduct

By Greg Barns - posted Friday, 13 October 2006

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.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

First published in the Hobart Mercury onSeptember 25, 2006.

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

38 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Greg Barns is National President of the Australian Lawyers Alliance.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Greg Barns

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Photo of Greg Barns
Article Tools
Comment 38 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy