Robert Fisk’s World: The West should feel shame over its collusion with torturers
I want to know why those complicit in Almalki’s ordeal are not tried in court
Saturday, 14 March 2009I invited Abdullah Almalki to breakfast in Ottawa but he only took coffee. And while I wolfed down my all-English breakfast in the Chateau Laurier Hotel (beloved of Churchill and Karsh of Ottawa fame), he sipped gingerly at his cup with much on his mind. Snooped on by the Canadian secret service and then tortured in Syria while the Canadian authorities did nothing for him – save supplying his perverted torturers with questions – he had much to think about. A carbon copy of Binyam Mohamed, the British resident who had his penis cut up while the Brits sent questions to his perverted Moroccan torturers.
In Abdullah Almalki's case, he wasn't renditioned. He simply flew into Damascus to see his Syrian family, got banged up in the city's secret police headquarters and was then beaten into submission, not much different from an even more famous case – that of Maher Arar, who was a Canadian citizen and got renditioned to Damascus by the Americans while the US authorities sent questions to his perverted Syrian torturers. Arar has received apologies from US senators – though not from the war hero George Bush (battle honours: the skies over Texas during the Vietnam conflict) -- and compensation from the Canadian government.
The details of each case are shockingly similar. Tim Hancock of Amnesty International has supplied similar information on Khaled al-Maqtari, a Yemeni man, who was apparently threatened with rape and beaten in chains by his perverted American torturers. Western nations simply assisted the perverts by providing them with pages of questions while their citizens/residents lay in agony, wishing they had never been born.
In the case of Abdullah Almalki, four interrogations by the Canadian "secret service" (its acronym – CSIS – inspires more laughter than fear) preceded his departure from Canada and the collapse of his business and subsequent residence in Malaysia. He and his wife had run an electronic components export business in Ottawa which prompted CSIS's suspicions. Was he sending funds or components to "terrorists" (the quotation marks are, of course, obligatory since CSIS was not worried about the "terrorists" who run the Syrian secret service and who were later to torture Abdullah Almalki on Canada's behalf).
For months, he was held in a secret service hellhole in Damascus and whipped with steel while the Syrians acted upon a Canadian letter to them (dated 4 October 2001) which stated that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were suggesting that Mr Almalki was linked through association with al-Qa'ida and engaged in activities that posed an "imminent threat" to the public safety and security of Canada. Readers who doubt this outrageous letter to the Syrian dictatorship can check page 400 of the Iacobucci report which was drawn up with government assistance after Almalki's release. The RCMP – the famous Mounties – also sent letters to Canadian government liaison officers in Islamabad, Rome, Delhi, Washington, London, Berlin and Paris, identifying Almalki as an "important member" of al-Qa'ida. For more information, you must read Kerry Pither's brilliant account, Dark Days: The Story of Four Canadians Tortured in the Name of Fighting Terror, which is scandalously unavailable in Britain.
The purpose of setting out these awful accounts is not to piss on Canadians. Canada is a great and real democracy, albeit weighed down with too much political correctness. I once remember an immigration officer at Toronto airport explaining to an Asian visitor that he wasn't to allow himself to be interrogated by the police without a lawyer and that he was free to speak and move wherever he wanted in Canada. The finest immigration guy in the world, I thought to myself. The lads and lasses at the Heathrow immigration desks don't come up to that standard.
No, I don't think Canada as a nation is to blame for all this. But the West is. For it is our public servants in government and our secret service thugs who have been in league with all these perverted men around the world. Indeed, even when Almalki was freed from his Syrian prison, Canadian embassy officials in Damascus would not allow him to stay in their building and ordered him out when the embassy closed at 4pm. One of them reportedly later told Almalki that Canada regularly gave passports to the families of leading Syrian officials. Can this be true?
I do know that the Syrians quite recently complained mightily to the Americans as well as the Canadians. First, the West sent its prisoners to be tortured in Damascus – and then complained that Syria abused human rights! Quite so. Bashar Al-Assad has put a stop to quite a lot of torture in Syria and now that President Obama is sending his cohorts to woo the Syrians, they presumably won't be called on to do America's (or Canada's) dirty work any more.
But I want to know why those complicit in Almalki's torture – the letter writers, the composers of questions – cannot be tried in court. They are, at the least, accomplices to human rights abuses. So are the Brits who went to question tortured men in Guantanamo. Even more so are the American perverts who indulged in their own torture in Afghanistan and Iraq – and yes, I have noted that our dear President Obama is allowing the illegal detention of prisoners at Bagram in Afghanistan to continue. But what else would you expect from a man whose secretary of state, Lady Hillary, far from going to the Palestinians whose homes were going to be destroyed by the Israelis in Jerusalem and denouncing this outrage, said merely that the home demolitions were "unhelpful".
So, in the long term, is torturing prisoners. Abdullah Almalki drove me to Ottawa airport in the snow after our breakfast, admitting that he was still too mentally broken by his months of Syrian torture to find employment. CSIS doesn't follow him any more as he says it used to before he left Canada for Asia and then the the hell of Syria. No one tailed our car. No one says any more that Almalki is guilty. On the other hand, no one will say he is innocent. But there are an awful lot of men in Western governments who should be in the dock. They won't be, of course. And oh yes – just in case you missed it – Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has just admitted that Canadian troops in Afghanistan are not going to win a military victory there. Just think. All that torture – for nothing.