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Guantanamo North must be shut down

July 2009

His friends and supporters last month celebrated the return to Montreal of Abousfian Abdulrazik. He’s the Canadian of Sudanese origin caught in a Kafkaesque nightmare, forced for the last year to sleep in the foyer of the Canadian embassy in Khartoum because he was on a no-fly list, though he was cleared of all suspicion that he was a security threat. It is a small but significant victory for the rule of law. But it comes as more disturbing information is being uncovered about the basis upon which five Canadians, all suspected Islamist extremists with past connections to terrorism, have been jailed on controversial national security certificates.

In the case of Syrian refugee claimant Hassan Almrei, who arrived in Canada in 1999 on what turned out to be a fake passport, and was detained after 9/11, a Federal Court judge has revealed that a confidential informant who pointed the accusing finger at Almrei failed a lie detector test and a second informant did not undergo that test, which the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) falsely claimed was given. Almrei was the last of the five to be released from a special six-unit holding cell opened in 2006 for terrorist suspects in Kingston penitentiary. It brings to mind the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the U.S. detained “unlawful combatants” suspected of terrorism and where it practiced water boarding to extract information from prisoners. U.S. President Barak Obama has banned torture and ordered that the facility be closed and we urge that Canada follow suit.

This is not to say that CSIS must let up in its search for credible information on threats to our security. But maintaining that facility signals that the rule of law does not apply when probing security issues and can be misread as an invitation for abuse. CSIS appears to be listening. Following revelations questioning the reliability of a key informant in the case of Mohamed Harkat, an Algerian-born Ottawa resident who also was ar- rested under a security certificate, CSIS has announced it is conducting an “exhaustive review” of all the court material it has filed in the five security certificate cases. In the rush to deliver results after 9/11, CSIS, like the CIA in the U.S., made mistakes.

Our government can send an important signal that Canada will not tolerate physically abusive treatment of detainees in order to extract information that could be obtained by other means. Our government should underline its confidence in the rule of law by stating unequivocally that we will not accept information obtained under torture in order to detain Canadian residents or citizens. One strong way of doing that would be to follow Obama’s lead and mothball the facility known as Guantanamo North.



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