JEFFREY BROWN: This week, Maher Arar got what he wanted.
MAHER ARAR, Subject of Canadian Government Commission Report: I wanted to clear my name. Today, Justice O'Connor has cleared my name and restored my reputation.
JEFFREY BROWN: On Monday, a Canadian government commission report concluded that Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian citizen, was wrongly accused of having ties to terrorism by Canadian officials and improperly taken by U.S. authorities to the Mideast, where he was tortured.
MAHER ARAR: They beat me with a cable. They also, you know, kicked me and punched me.
JEFFREY BROWN: Arar, a 36-year-old computer software engineer and father of two, was returning to Canada from a vacation in Tunisia in September 2002 when he was detained by U.S. authorities during a stopover at New York's Kennedy Airport.
Acting on information from Canadian intelligence that Arar had ties to al-Qaida, U.S. officials questioned him, then flew him to Jordan. From there, he was driven to Syria, where Arar says he was held prisoner for some 10 months in a tiny cell. He was released in October 2003.
MAHER ARAR: I had thoughts of committing suicide because, you know, the psychological torture in that cell was so awful to the point where, you know, it just -- you know, it is really beyond human imagination.
JEFFREY BROWN: The Canadian investigation, led by Justice Dennis O'Connor, was sharply critical of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police for its role in gathering and passing on incorrect information on Arar.
DENNIS O'CONNOR, Chair, Arar Commission: There is no evidence to indicate that Mr. Arar has committed any offense or that his activities constitute a threat to the security of Canada.
JEFFREY BROWN: Arar is now seeking compensation and an apology from the Canadian government. In Washington yesterday, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was asked about the case.
ALBERTO GONZALES, U.S. Attorney General: We were not responsible for his removal to Syria. I'm not aware that he was tortured, and I haven't read the commission report.
Mr. Arar was deported under our immigration laws. He was initially detained because his name appeared on a terrorist list, and he was deported according to our -- according to our laws.
JEFFREY BROWN: In Ottawa yesterday, Canada's prime minister, Stephen Harper, addressed the issue in the House of Commons.
STEPHEN HARPER, Prime Minister of Canada: Mr. Arar has been done a tremendous injustice. We all know this took place during the period of the previous government.
JEFFREY BROWN: Harper said he would respond to the report's recommendations within a few weeks.
And late today, Canada's parliament unanimously passed a motion that the government should apologize to Mr. Arar. The inquiry commission that issued its report Monday was appointed more than two years ago, after Mr. Arar was released from prison and after his case had attracted much attention in the Canadian media.
Paul Cavalluzzo served as the commission's lead counsel and joins us now from Toronto.
Let's start, if we could, with your chief finding regarding Mr. Arar himself. The conclusion is that, without any doubt, he had no links to terrorism, correct?
PAUL CAVALLUZZO, Attorney for Inquiry into Maher Arar Case: That's correct. And certainly, from Mr. Arar's perspective, that was very, very important, because for the last three or four years, he has been under a cloud of suspicion that he was engaged in terrorist activities. It was a very important finding, from his perspective.
JEFFREY BROWN: So how did he become a suspect? How did this series of bad information begin?
PAUL CAVALLUZZO: Well, Jeffrey, it all started in October of 2001 when Mr. Arar was observed outside a coffee shop in Ottawa with a person who the RCMP suspected of terrorist activities. And at that point in time, he came on their radar screen. And they did an investigation in which he was involved.
JEFFREY BROWN: How did your report conclude that Canadian intelligence got it all so wrong?
PAUL CAVALLUZZO: Well, we reviewed all of the evidence. We had the opportunity to review all of the documents. And we discovered that there was a lot of information-sharing with the Americans -- some of which was inaccurate and imprecise -- relating to Mr. Arar, some of which exaggerated his importance to the investigation. And at the same time, while he was detained in the United States, they also shared information which was inaccurate.
JEFFREY BROWN: And so you conclude that it was based on this inaccurate information that he was, in fact, detained in New York?
PAUL CAVALLUZZO: Certainly the evidence points that way. Indeed, the secretary of state, Colin Powell, at the time in December of 2003 said that Mr. Arar was placed on a terrorist watch list based on information received from Canadian authorities.
JEFFREY BROWN: Now, did Canadian officials or police understand or expect that Mr. Arar might then be taken out of the U.S. to Jordan and then Syria?
PAUL CAVALLUZZO: No. That decision was made by the American agencies. And certainly, they were less than candid with the Canadian officials. And the Canadian authorities were quite surprised when they discovered that he had been rendered to Syria.
JEFFREY BROWN: And when and how did Canadian officials learn about what had happened?
PAUL CAVALLUZZO: Well, unfortunately, Mr. Arar was rendered on October the 8th, about 3:00 in the morning. He was removed from the detention center in Brooklyn, and he was put on a jet and taken to Jordan and then to Syria, where he arrived probably around October 9th or 10th.
American authorities did not disclose formally to Canadian authorities where he was. And Canadian authorities only found out on October 21st, when the Syrian military intelligence advised our ambassador in Damascus that Mr. Arar was in detention in Syria.
JEFFREY BROWN: Now, one of your recommendations is that Canada file a formal objection to the Syrian and American governments. Regarding the American part of that, is that because of the lack of disclosure?
PAUL CAVALLUZZO: Well, it's more than that. Certainly, we feel that the American government violated the Vienna Convention by not giving Mr. Arar consular access to the consulate office in New York when he was in detention shortly after September 26th of 2002, and also the manner in which he was rendered to a country which the Americans should have known contained a very credible risk of torture.
Canadian authorities were willing to accept Mr. Arar, and that was only 200 miles away, yet the American authorities sent him to Syria.
JEFFREY BROWN: Now, the greatest criticism and the brunt of your report is aimed at your own nation's intelligence and police work in this case. What are you recommending looking to the future to prevent this from happening?
PAUL CAVALLUZZO: Well, certainly, we emphasize that information-sharing with foreign agencies is absolutely vital in the global fight with terrorism, but at the same time there have to be restrictions on how that information is shared. Obviously, the information given has to be accurate, has to be precise, has to be relevant, and has to respect the privacy interests of Canadian citizens. And that's unfortunately what did not happen in respect to Mr. Arar.
JEFFREY BROWN: What about within Canada's intelligence or police forces? Are you expecting some repercussions, punitive actions?
PAUL CAVALLUZZO: Well, the mandate of the commission was not to recommend penal actions; however, the commissioner did say that the report speaks for itself, and each particular Canadian agency which was involved should look at its findings and take whatever actions they deem appropriate.
JEFFREY BROWN: And what about compensation for Mr. Arar himself? What are you recommending there?
PAUL CAVALLUZZO: Well, the commissioner recommended that the federal government sit down with Mr. Arar and try to resolve this amicably. Mr. Arar has been through a lot in Syria and the United States; he's been through a long public inquiry. And certainly, it would be in his interest to have this matter resolved expeditiously so that he can turn a new page in his life and move on.
JEFFREY BROWN: As we saw in our set-up report, Prime Minister Harper said that he would respond to this report shortly. How does this work? Is he under any obligation to respond or to act based upon the report?
PAUL CAVALLUZZO: No. We have made recommendations to him. And we believe that he will seriously consider those recommendations and hopefully act appropriately.
JEFFREY BROWN: All right. Paul Cavalluzzo, thank you very much for joining us.
PAUL CAVALLUZZO: You're welcome, Jeffrey.