Canada

Torture claimants urge PM to lift veil on inquiry

Three Arab-Canadians who allege Canadian security officials contributed to their torture overseas are calling on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to make the inquiry into their cases fully public.

Three Arab-Canadians who allege Canadian officials contributed to their torture overseas called on Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Friday to make the federal inquiry into their cases fully public.

Abdullah Almalki asked: 'Why the secrecy?' on Friday. ((CBC))

Headed by former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci,the inquiry is examining the cases of Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El Maati and Muayyed Nureddin, who say they were wrongly labelled as terrorists by Canadian authoritiesand tortured in Syriaand Egypt.

Theappeal by the three mencame a day afterAmnesty International and a coalition of other rightsgroups said the inquiry is being stymied by overprotective guidelines established by the Conservative government.

Ata news conference in Ottawa Friday, the men and their lawyers said they are frustrated that Iacobucci has held most of the inquiry in camera since it began in March.

Iacobucci has also denied lawyers for the three men access to the hearings, saying it would be too difficult to obtain special security clearance for them. The government has also cited the need to protect national security and quicken the inquiry process as a justification for keeping proceedings out of the public eye.

Ahmad El Maati said he is 'still waiting for real answers.' ((CBC))

But Almalki, an Ottawa-based communications engineer, said his reputation and professional life have been "thrown out the window" since he was held for 22 months after his arrest in Syria in 2002.

He said the powerlessness he feels over being shut out of the process reminded him of the time he spent in a "grave-like" undergroundcell.

"We want a true public inquiry," Almalki told reporters Friday. "I am not able to put a single question to a single witness or see a single document. Why the secrecy?"

Asked about theinquiry in Ottawa Friday, the prime minister said Iacobucci hasbeen given a"wide mandate," but has to weigh national security concerns in his role.

"Justice Iacobucci hasall the power necessary to decide whether something should be held in private or whether it can be held in public," Harper said. "The government isn't going to interferein how he conducts the inquiry."

'My life is in limbo'

Paul Copeland, Almalki's lawyer, cited the in camera testimony at the Maher Arar inquiry that was laterheld againwithin the public eye as an example of what he hoped would ultimately occur in Iacobucci's own proceedings.

"Our impressions are that there will be no such hearings at the inquiry," Copeland told CBC News on Friday. "What we have is anything but open and transparent. We knowalmost nothing about what's going on."

In an e-mail to CBCNews.ca, Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day said the Iacobucci inquiry wasa "clear indication" the Conservative government is taking steps to implement the recommendations made by the commissioner of the Arar inquiry, Justice Dennis O’Connor.

Day said thegovernment is fully committed to working withIacobucci and his counsel "to support the internal inquiry in fulfilling its mandate in a timely and efficient manner."

"If Chairman Iacobucci feels constrained by the terms of reference, he can approach the prime minister," Day said.

Almalki, El Maati and Nureddin all spent time in prison, where they say they were tortured andaccused of links to al-Qaeda. All were eventually freed and allowed to return to Canada.

All believe that Canadian police or intelligence officers provided information to their foreign captors.

Kuwait-born El Maati was a truck driver who said he was tortured in both Egypt and Syria.

"I'm still waiting for real answers, so I can get on with my life," he said Friday.

Muayyed Nureddin describes his life as being 'in limbo.' (CBC)

Nureddin was the principal of an Islamic school in Toronto and was arrested at the Syrian border as he was returning from visiting relatives in northern Iraq in 2004.

"In many ways, my life is in limbo," Nureddin told reporters Friday.

"Not being able to participate in an inquiry into why I was tortured … makes this limbo another form of torture."

While all three were investigated by CSIS on suspicion of links to terrorism, none was ever arrested here nor had any restrictions placed on their movements in Canada.

now