It is an interesting irony that as the case of Maher Arar passes into history the case of another Canadian, Omar Khadr is coming to trial in the US.
Arar and Khadr have a few things in common besides being Canadian citizens. Both have suffered inhumane torture. Both have had their legal rights and rights as citizens of Canada suspended by successive profligate Liberal and Conservative governments. The plight of these two men is merely the most recent and very dramatic example of this country’s chronic unwillingness to protect the rights of our citizens abroad. Where Britain and Australia have fought vigorously and successfully to have their citizens removed from the infamous Guantanamo gulag successive Canadian governments have cowered in silence.
Maher Arar’s crime was essentially to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Khadr, at the age of 15, is alleged to have shot and killed a US medic in an Al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan.
But the US is making the wacky claim that Khadr’s crime was murder. His rights under the Geneva Conventions are blissfully ignored. His age at the time of the alleged crime is also ignored. This transpires against a back drop where thousands of Afghan and Iraqi civilians have been the victims of indiscriminate US firepower. In wars where civilians have been by far the majority of casualties, one man, Omar Khadr becomes a murderer for killing a US soldier.
Does it have to be said there is a heinous double standard bordering on insanity at work here?
Fortunately, the injustice dealt Maher Arar came under judicial review with the Arar commission, Justice Dennis O’ Connor presiding. Even then the government invoked reasons of national security to censor information provided. Much to his credit O’Connor forced the government to reveal even more.
What is revealed is what we suspected all along. While Ottawa bureaucrats slid between their linen sheets at night they indifferently gave up Maher Arar to the CIA knowing full well the evidence against him was questionable and he was going to be tortured and become another victim of “extraordinary rendition.”
It is noteworthy Arar’s Syrian jailers reported to a visiting CSIS agent they considered him more a “nuisance” than an Al Qaeda suspect. Even then he was left to languish in his crypt like cell.
The circumstances surrounding the Arar case are a stunning indictment of the slack ass and incompetent way Ottawa bureaucrats operate. Where they may pass their civil service exams their morality is in the sewer. Clearly, the interests of national security was not invoked to protect the ramparts of the nation but to cover the tracks of their incompetence and wanton indifference to the plight of a wrongfully accused Canadian. The claim of the need for national security has now been degraded to whitewash, yet no resignations, firings or reprimands appear forthcoming.
In the aftermath of 9/11 there was a maniacal vigilante fever to avenge this attack on American soil. There was heavy pressure on Canada and other US allies to help America vent its wrath with blind cooperation leading to what is now corrupted complicity. Revenge has been exacted a thousand times over with the death of thousands of Afghans and Iraqis with the world turned into a much more fretful and insecure place.
There comes a time when balance must return and the rule of law and decency must prevail.
Some very decent US lawyers have been insisting on this for some time now in their five year old fight to defend the legal rights of accused terrorists; Omar Khadr being just one among many. They have exercised courage in doing so as they have been threatened and vilified for doing so. Many have acted on a pro bono basis.
As reported in the August 11th Globe and Mail three of these lawyers, Lt.-CMdr. William Kuebler, Denis Edney, and Lorne Waldman spoke at the convention of the Canadian Bar Association. When Kuebler pointed out to the convention that, “it is inexplicable that Canada has stood by silently while a citizen whose alleged crime was committed while he was still a child’ is being systematically railroaded by a lawless regime,” he received a standing ovation.
Denis Edney reported Khadr’s present state as “mentally debilitated,” asking for no more than crayons and paper to color on, and that he is ill and going blind. When asked about the unfairness of his incarceration Khadr simply replied “Canada doesn’t care.”
Waldeman told a subsequent press conference that Omar is no doubt a victim of the “Khadr effect.” Because his family is notoriously associated with Al Qaeda the government and the media shy away from protesting his treatment in captivity.
CBA president Parker MacCarthy referred to Khadr’s treatment as a “travesty of justice” and vowed that the CBA would be aggressively pursuing Khadr’s return to Canada and urged that all Canadians should speak out against this “horrendous lack of due process.”
Waldeman is dead on when he says Omar is suffering from the “Khadr effect.” He suffers guilt by association. But both he and Maher Arar have been victimized by a much more insidious problem and it is quite simply that official Ottawa, both politicians and civil service mandarins are much too willing to pay the Washington Tribute Tax, the WTT.
As this writer has pointed out previously the WTT comes in many forms. It can be anything from selling out the country’s softwood lumber industry, to allowing US enforcement agencies to operate freely within this country and packing guns while they do it. It also comes in the form of North American Union- the subject nobody wants to talk about-and what will be the final levy of the WTT.
In the case of Arar and Khadr the WTT comes in the form of a complete abdication of defending their rights as citizens of Canada and their right to due process.
As a government in abdication, official Ottawa- our peerless politicos and esteemed civil servants- have become acolytes to The Empire as they retreat from governance and anything that resembles moral scruples.
The disgrace is theirs and ours. Theirs for doing nothing and ours for letting them get away with it.
ROBERT BILLYARD lives in Mission, British Columbia.