Canadian flies in to testify at EU probe on extraordinary rendition

From the Toronto Star

It’s not surprising that Maher Arar travelled with some trepidation from Toronto to Brussels early this morning.

The 35-year-old Ottawa telecommunications engineer had his flight plan rerouted in 2002 by American authorities who believed he was a terrorism suspect, becoming one of the most famous victims of the controversial practice of rendition, in which detainees are transferred for interrogation to a country known to use torture.

Instead of allowing him to return to Canada from a family vacation abroad, U.S. authorities detained Arar during a stopover in New York and put him on a private jet to Jordan. He was then driven to Syria, where he was tortured and held for a year without charges.

Arar said in an interview yesterday he felt he had to overcome his fears of flying and the possibility of still remaining on some type of watch list, so he could testify this week before a European Union committee. His Toronto lawyers, Marlys Edwardh and Lorne Waldman, made the trip with him.

The European Parliament committee was formed to investigate concerns that the CIA has secretly held prisoners in Eastern Europe and used European airports as stopovers during rendition flights.

“I think my story will shed some more light on the U.S.’s illegal and immoral practice of extraordinary rendition. I know there have been some other witnesses, but my story is unique,” Arar said. Arar has yet to testify before a Canadian federal inquiry into the actions or inactions of officials in his case. Much of the inquiry has been held in private, and presiding Justice Dennis O’Connor ruled it would be unfair for Arar to testify without being privy to in-camera evidence.

An interim inquiry report is to be released this spring ? after which he may testify.

Yesterday, Arar said the federal inquiry is limited to the actions of Canadians and he’s heartened that the European committee is investigating the U.S. practice of rendition and secret prison sites. Ottawa has done little to respond since it’s come to light CIA planes have landed in Canadian airports 74 times since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S.

“Our government has been silent so I don’t know how to interpret the silence but it’s very, very worrying,” Arar said. “Why didn’t our government have the same concern as the Europeans about what those flights were doing, which agencies, if any knew about the nature of those flights?”

Another alleged victim of rendition, Khaled Al-Masri, testified last week he believes his government was complicit in his capture by U.S. forces and removal to Afghanistan.

The German national told the committee that after he was captured and detained in Macedonia in December 2003, he was taken to a secret prison in Afghanistan where at one point a German man who called himself “Sam” interrogated him.