OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian security services probably contributed indirectly to the torture in Syria of three Arab Canadians who had been suspected of involvement in terrorist activities, an official inquiry found on Tuesday.
Frank Iacobucci, who headed the commission that conducted the inquiry, concluded after interviewing the men that they had been tortured through a variety of means, including beatings with electric cables, burning with cigarettes and being kicked in the genitals.
“Torture is a pernicious practice that is just beyond any kind of defense,” said Iacobucci, a former Supreme Court judge.
Even so, he found that Canadian officials appeared to have been acting conscientiously in trying to defend Canada at a difficult time just after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
The government-appointed inquiry covered the cases of Canadian-Egyptian Ahmad El Maati, Canadian-Syrian Abdullah Almalki and Canadian-Iraqi Muayyed Nureddin, who were arrested separately when entering Syria between 2001 and 2003.
They said some of the questions they were asked there were based on information that could only have come from Canada.
Iacobucci said mistreatment of the men did not result directly from any Canadian action but Canadian officials indirectly led to the torture of El Maati and Almalki and likely also to that of Nureddin. He concluded El Maati had also been tortured in Egypt.
The judge also concluded that Canadian actions likely contributed to Syria’s detention of El Maati and Nureddin.
Still, Iacobucci concluded: “I found no evidence that any of these officials were seeking to do anything other than carry out conscientiously the duties and responsibilities of the institutions of which they were a part.”
He found that the officials had not been careful enough in applying labels such as “imminent threat” to the men and in preparing questions for Syrian authorities.
“The RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) fully knew that I would be tortured if they sent questions,” Almalki told a news conference. “My life had been ruined; my reputation has been ruined.”
The Canadian government ordered the probe in 2006 after an earlier inquiry found that Canadian Maher Arar had been deported to Syria by the United States, and tortured there, after what the inquiry said was false identification of him as an Islamic extremist by Canadian police.
Iacobucci said his report was not meant to pronounce on any allegations of terrorist activities, which the men deny.
But he tried to put the actions of the Canadian intelligence services and diplomats in perspective: “You’re looking at this protection of the state against terrorist threats, and you’ve got to take that very seriously.”
He added: “I hope that we in this country can continue to strive to get the balance, the equilibrium, between the protection of national security interest along with the protection, preservation and enhancement of freedoms.”
The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation had charged that Almalki was a procurement officer for Osama bin Laden. Canadian authorities had told other agencies that Nureddin was suspected of couriering money between Islamic extremists.
The Canadian officials had described El Maati as one involved in the Islamic extremist movement and one who had spent seven years in Afghanistan involved in jihad-related activities. The men deny any wrongdoing.
Almalki said that in criticizing the way the authorities had labeled the three men, Iacobucci had effectively cleared their names. All three men called for government apologies.
Canadian Public Security Minister Stockwell Day said the security agencies had taken steps after the Arar affair to correct shortcomings. He declined to say if compensation should be offered, noting civil suits were in progress.
Editing by Peter Galloway