January 29, 2007
Fmr CIA official wants to give Arar case higher profile in U.S.

OTTAWA (CP) - A former top CIA official wants to raise the profile of Maher Arar in the United States, where he hopes the story of Arar's deportation and torture will help end the American practice of extraordinary rendition.

Frederick Hitz, the Central Intelligence Agency's inspector general during the high-profile investigation into the Iran-Contra scandal, told a panel discussion Monday that rank-and-file intelligence officers don't like the legally dubious measures being employed in the current war on terrorism.

"I've dealt with these people in previous times when it's come up, from Iran-Contra on, and they know that they're going to pay the price," said Hitz, who spent more than 20 years with the agency and is now a law professor.

"They know they're the ones who are going to be taken to the tribunals and tried, not the people who asked them to do it.

"So they want the guidance as clear and as fundamentally legally based as they can get it. They're not fire-breathers."

Hitz was part of a panel of academics, legal experts and intelligence analysts set up by the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars to discuss Canada-U.S. intelligence relations in the wake of Arar.

Arar won a $10.5 million settlement and an official apology from the Canadian government last week for the RCMP's role in his removal, by U.S. authorities, to a Syrian prison in 2002.

But American officials continue to label Arar a threat and the Syrian-born computer engineer remains on the U.S. no-fly list, despite his exoneration in an exhaustive inquiry by Justice Dennis O'Connor.

The panel uniformly praised O'Connor's investigation and recommendations, particularly the judge's over-arching belief that the Arar debacle cannot be used as an excuse to end intelligence-sharing between Canada and the U.S.

The panelists were also unanimous in their opinion that extraordinary rendition - effectively shipping suspects to repressive regimes where they can be interrogated using torture - must end.

As Nathalie Des Rosiers, dean of the University of Ottawa law faculty, put it: "You cannot fight lawlessness with lawlessness."

But Hitz, who teaches at the University of Virginia, said the message needs to be heard by an American public that has been preoccupied with mid-term elections and the spiralling war in Iraq.

"I regret that the significance of the Arar matter appears to have been underplayed in the United States," he said.

"Perhaps we can do something about that."

Hitz wants Justice O'Connor to come to Virginia this spring to participate in a university-sponsored panel on Arar to raise public awareness, although that appears unlikely.

O'Connor, through a spokeswoman for the inquiry, indicated Monday he won't go.

"By virtue of his role as commissioner, he speaks on these issues through his report," Francine Bastien said after catching O'Connor between sittings of the Ontario Court of Appeal.

"As a result he cannot participate in panels like that."

Hitz knows something about high-profile, politically charged intelligence scandals. In 1990, Republican president George Bush Sr., appointed him CIA inspector general - in effect an internal watchdog - a post he held until he left the CIA in 1998.

During this period, Hitz investigated the agency's role in selling arms to Iran in the 1980s and funnelling the proceeds to Nicaragua's anti-communist Contras.

Hitz says he's thrilled that Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy recently took up Arar's cause during a fiery, televised exchange with the U.S. attorney general.

"Leahy hit the button," Hitz said. "And I don't think it's going to go away."

He believes U.S. courts will eventually end extraordinary renditions.

"I think the good guys are going to win this one," Hitz told the panel. "I hope it doesn't take too long."