Arar was tortured, inquiry fact-finder concludes
Ottawa engineer Maher Arar was tortured while in custody in Syria three years ago and he still suffers from the aftereffects of his treatment, a fact-finder appointed by the Arar inquiry concludes in a report released Thursday.
"I am convinced that his description of his treatment in Syria is accurate," Stephen Toope wrote after conducting 10 hours of conversations with Arar and comparing his testimony to that of other Syrian-Canadians who say they were tortured by Syrian interrogators.
"I conclude that the stories they tell are credible," wrote Toope, a former dean of McGill University's Law School. "I believe that they suffered severe physical and psychological trauma while in detention in Syria. Mr. [Abdullah] Almalki was especially badly treated, and for an extended period."
U.S. authorities detained Arar in New York when he was returning from a family vacation in Tunisia in September 2002, accusing him of having terrorist connections. Though Arar, 35, is a dual citizen of Syria and Canada, the Americans deported him to Syria. He was held and interrogated for more than a year before Canadian officials finally had him returned to Canada.
A public inquiry was established in January 2004 to look into the circumstances surrounding his detention.
Toope's 25-page report looked at the treatment of detainees at two facilities in Syria: Far Falestin (Palestine Branch) and Sednaya prison.
"[The] report, with its detailed description of acts of torture, makes for difficult reading, but it is extremely important that it is now part of the record of this inquiry," lead counsel Paul Cavalluzzo said in a release Thursday.
Before completing his task, Toope was able to see "extensive written material including some in-camera testimony and a selection of unredacted documents that were directly relevant to assessing Mr. Arar's experience in Syria," the news release said.
"I conclude that the treatment of Mr. Arar in Far Falestin constituted torture as understood in international law," Toope wrote. "In addition, the techniques of humiliation and the creation of intense fear were forms of psychological torture.
"Although there have been few lasting physical effects, Mr. Arar's psychological state was seriously damaged and he remains fragile. His relationships with members of his immediate family have been significantly impaired. Economically, the family has been devastated."
Once a "workaholic" computer engineer with a challenging job he loved, Arar has been for the most part unemployed since returning to Canada from Syria, Toope's report said. Hundreds of e-mail inquiries and letters brought few responses and no job offers in his field.
"The most recent information available to me is that Mr. Arar has finally been offered a small part-time position as a computer adviser in his daughter's school," Toope wrote. "This is small comfort for a man who prided himself on his growing earning capacity."
Arar has also found himself estranged from Ottawa's Muslim community, the report said. As well, the formerly devout Muslim can no longer bring himself to read the Koran, the Holy Book that provided him with solace during his captivity in Far Falestin.