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POSTED AT 1:21 AM EDT ON 11/10/06

Reopen probe, Arar asks CSIS watchdog

From Wednesday's Globe and Mail

OTTAWA — Maher Arar wants CSIS's watchdog to reopen its investigation into the intelligence agency's failure to recognize that he was being tortured in Syria.

The Security Intelligence Review Committee, a permanent oversight panel, should reopen the case to determine whether the agency engaged in a cover-up, Mr. Arar's lawyers said in a letter to the committee.

Meanwhile, the House of Commons public-safety committee has decided it, too, wants to investigate the Canadian Security Intelligence Service's role in the Arar case.

Most of the attention has been focused on the RCMP since a judicial commission of inquiry reported last month that the Mounties gave inaccurate and inflammatory intelligence about Mr. Arar to U.S. authorities, leading to his deportation to Syria, imprisonment and torture.

But some MPs, Mr. Arar and his lawyers say they believe CSIS's failures — as outlined in the commission report — warrant closer public scrutiny.

Mr. Justice Dennis O'Connor, who headed the inquiry, said CSIS accepted at face value intelligence reports about Mr. Arar's interrogation in Damascus from Syrian authorities without recognizing that the information was probably obtained by torture.

The O'Connor report said CSIS “for reasons of its own preferred that Mr. Arar not return to Canada.” Thus the service did not support diplomatic efforts by the Foreign Affairs Department to get him released.

These reasons included CSIS's concern that if Mr. Arar were returned to Canada he would speak out against his torture in Syria, making it more difficult for Canadian authorities to deport to that Middle Eastern country other people who were considered security risks, the report said.

In addition, Mr. Arar's return would have placed an extra burden on CSIS personnel, who were already stretched thin and could not adequately monitor the activities of individuals linked to security cases, the report said.

Most of the CSIS witnesses at the inquiry testified in secret for national security reasons. Most of their testimony remains classified.

Lorne Waldman, Mr. Arar's lawyer, said the censored version of Judge O'Connor's report contains enough information about CSIS's sins of omission to raise a number of disturbing questions about whether the service was being forthright with SIRC.

Mr. Waldman wrote to SIRC last week, asking it to re-examine CSIS's role. “We are concerned that SIRC might not have had full disclosure of all of the information when it made its initial findings” in its report last year.

(SIRC initiated its own investigation of CSIS's hand in the Arar case before the federal government called a full commission of inquiry.) SIRC, a blue-ribbon panel that is headed by former Manitoba premier Gary Filmon, will consider Mr. Arar's request at its next formal meeting this month, said committee spokeswoman Suzanne Beaubien.

Meanwhile, the Commons public-safety committee intends to call CSIS director Jim Judd as a witness to discuss the implications of the O'Connor report.

The report said CSIS “did not do an adequate reliability assessment” of the information from Syrian military intelligence about Mr. Arar's interrogation “particularly with respect to whether that information could be the product of torture.”

The Canadian software engineer had been tortured and forced to “confess” he had trained at a terrorist camp in Afghanistan.

CSIS used the information against Mr. Arar on at least two occasions, the O'Connor report said, referring to testimony that remains classified.

“If CSIS had done an adequate assessment, it would have concluded that the information was likely the result of torture and therefore of questionable reliability,” Judge O'Connor wrote.

“Unfortunately, an assessment was done by a person with no expertise in torture and the conclusion was that there likely was no torture.”

CSIS officials have declined to answer questions about the report since its release on Sept. 18.

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