OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada’s former top policeman alleges U.S. authorities misled him over the case of a Canadian man who was arrested in New York and deported to Syria, where he was imprisoned and tortured.
Giuliano Zaccardelli, the former head of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, said Washington “threw away the rule book” when it came to software engineer Maher Arar, who was arrested during a stopover at JFK Airport in September 2002.
Zaccardelli quit as RCMP commissioner in December 2006 after admitting he had misled Canadian legislators over how the force handled the affair.
An official report earlier that year concluded that U.S. officials acted after the RCMP falsely told them Arar was a suspected Islamic extremist. Zaccardelli says Canada was informed Arar would be set free.
“We are led to believe that he is going to be released and he is coming to Canada,” he told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. in an interview shown late Tuesday.
Zaccardelli said the RCMP were so convinced Arar would be returned to Canada that they put together a surveillance team.
“We are waiting in Montreal for the plane to arrive with Mr. Arar getting off the plane. The plane arrives. Mr. Arar never gets off,” he said.
Last year, Ottawa formally apologized to Arar and paid him C$10.5 million ($9.9 million) in compensation. Arar spent almost a year in prison before the Syrians freed him, and says he was repeatedly tortured.
According to the CBC, Zaccardelli said the decision to deport Arar was clearly made by senior officials in Washington rather than by U.S. law enforcement authorities.
“In effect, the Americans threw away the rule book on how to co-operate and work with their allies and their closest friends,” he said, without giving details.
A top Arar defender dismissed Zaccardelli’s allegations, saying he wanted to cover up the errors the Mounties made.
“Clearly the ex-commissioner is trying very hard to rewrite his shameful legacy ... of RCMP complicity in torture,” human rights advocate Kerry Pither told Reuters.
Zaccardelli, who now works in France for Interpol, also lashed out at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) spy agency, saying it had tried to block the RCMP from pressing the United States for information about Arar.
No one from CSIS was immediately available for comment. There is a history of bad blood between the two forces.
Canada is now investigating the case of three other men who say they were arrested and tortured in Syria and asked questions that were based on information that could only have come from Canadian authorities. A final report on the matter is due on October 20.
Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Rob Wilson