Torture Accountability in Canada: After Payments to Three Men Tortured in Syria, Former Guantánamo Prisoner Djamel Ameziane Also Seeks Damages

7.11.17

Abdullah Almalki (center), with Muayyed Nureddin (left) and Ahmad El Maati (right) at a news conference in Ottawa in October 2007 (Photo: Reuters).Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

There was some very welcome news from Canada last week, when three Canadian citizens — Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El Maati and Muayyed Nureddin — were paid $31.25 million (around $25m US dollars, or £18.7m) by the Canadian government as compensation for the government’s key role, via the spy agency CSIS (the Canadian Security Intelligence Service) and RCMP (the Royal Canadian Mounted Police), in arranging for them to be imprisoned and tortured in Syria between 2001 and 2003, when they were wrongly suspected of having some involvement with terrorism.

As the Toronto Star explained on October 26, “The payout was kept secret until this month and is part of a legal settlement that was first reported by the Star in February and announced by the Liberal government weeks later.”

The Star added, “The resolution and accompanying government apology put an end to a nine-year court battle for compensation that has been demanded since 2008,” when then-Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci concluded, in a report on their cases, that “Canadian agents labelled the men Islamic extremists and shared information with other countries without proper precautions about its unreliability.”

As the Star also stated, bluntly, “The men were never charged,” and they ended up suing the Canadian government for $100 million.

I had missed the story of the settlement earlier this year, but the Star explained that, “In March, the Liberal government announced it had reached a settlement and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale apologized to Almalki, El Maati and Nureddin for ‘any role Canadian officials may have played’ in what led to their arrests and torture.”

The Star also noted that, although the government “refused to say how much it would pay each of the men,” when officially announcing their compensation payments two weeks ago, “the $31.25-million settlement was revealed in government accounting documents tabled in the House of Commons on Oct. 5 and quietly published online.”

I am delighted to hear that the three me have finally received compensation for their horrendous ordeal. I wrote about their cases back in 2009, when I was the lead researcher and writer of a UN report into secret detention.

In that report (available here in the third of three posts reproducing the report’s key findings on my website), I noted how:

Ahmad Abou El-Maati, a Canadian-Egyptian national, was seized at Damascus airport on his arrival from Toronto on 11 November 2001. He was held in the Far Falestin prison in the Syrian Arab Republic until 25 January 2002, when he was transferred to Egyptian custody, where he remained in various detention sites (including in secret detention until August 2002) until his release on 7 March 2004.

I also stated:

Abdullah Almalki, a Canadian-Syrian national, also spent time in secret detention in the Syrian Arab Jamahiriya, in Far Falestin, from 3 May to 7 July 2002, when he received a family visit. On 25 August 2003, he was sent to Sednaya prison. He was released on 10 March 2004. He returned to Canada on 25 July 2004 after being acquitted of all charges by the Syrian State Supreme Security court.

Another Canadian, Muayyed Nureddin, an Iraqi-born geologist, was detained on the border of the Syrian Arab Republic and Iraq on 11 December 2002, when he returned from a family visit in northern Iraq. He was secretly detained for a month in Far Falestin, then released on 13 January 2003.

In an interview with the Toronto Star, Abdullah Almalki, who lives in Ottawa with his wife and children, said, as the newspaper described it, that he was “ready to try to move on from a terrible episode in his life that has stretched on for 15 years.” He “wouldn’t discuss the settlement because it’s confidential,” but he did say that people “should instead focus on how to change the system so that something like this never happens again.”

Almalki said, “We were falsely targeted based on racism and bigotry. I had to fight for years to get an inquiry, and then to show that’s what [Canadian officials] did. They falsely accused us of things we had absolutely nothing to do with.”

In response to the announcement of the settlement, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as the Star put it, “called the payout ‘a difficult lesson’ for what happens when Canadian governments ‘of any stripe’ allow a citizen’s rights to be violated.” As he stated, “I certainly hope that people remain concerned, angry and even outraged at these settlements, because no future government should ever imagine that it’s a good idea or an acceptable idea to allow Canadians’ fundamental rights to be violated. When we don’t stand up for people’s rights, it ends up costing all of us.”

The payments are not the first by the Canadian government. In January 2007, Canadian citizen Maher Arar received $10.5 million from Stephen Harper’s Conservative government for his abduction in the US, while he was changing flights, and his torture in Syria. As the Star put it, “He, too, was detained for almost a year in 2002 and tortured in Syria after Canadian intelligence wrongfully flagged him for suspected terrorist links.”

That was Harper’s only concession to Canadian wrongdoing in the “war on terror.” Elsewhere, he worked persistently to prevent the release and repatriation of Canadian citizen Omar Khadr, who was just 15 when he was seized by US forces after a firefight in Afghanistan. As I explained in an article in 2013, in Khadr’s case the Canadian government “ignored its obligations to demand his rehabilitation under the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, to which both the US and Canada are signatories, as did his US captors.”

After agreeing to a disgraceful plea deal, just to get out of Guantánamo, Khadr finally returned to Canada at the end of September 2012, ten months after the agreed date of his return. The government then fought to keep him in prison, and he was only finally released on bail in May 2015.

In July, the Trudeau government also agreed to a $10.5-million settlement in Omar Khadr’s case, on the basis that, in 2010, the Canadian Supreme Court ruled that his rights had been violated when Canadian agents interrogated him at Guantánamo in 2003, when he was just 16. The Court stated, “Interrogation of a youth, to elicit statements about the most serious criminal charges while detained in these conditions and without access to counsel, and while knowing that the fruits of the interrogations would be shared with the US prosecutors, offends the most basic Canadian standards about the treatment of detained youth suspects.”

Nevertheless, Conservatives complained vehemently about Khadr’s payment, although they did not complain about the payment to Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El Maati and Muayyed Nureddin. The Star reported that Rob Nicholson, a Conservative MP who was minister of justice, foreign affairs and national defence during the Harper era, told reporters that, “to the extent that false information was given to foreign agencies, which was apparently what this case was all about, they certainly deserved compensation.” His caucus colleague, Peter Kent, “added that the three men in this case are victims who ‘deserved every penny’ of their settlement.”

Djamel Ameziane seeks damages from the Canadian government

Former Guantanamo prisoner Djamel Ameziane, photographed in 2015 by Debi Cornwall.Ten days after the announcement of the settlement for the three men tortured in Syria, the Canadian Press reported that former Guantánamo prisoner Djamel Ameziane, who lived in Canada for five years and was interrogated by Canadian agents at Guantánamo, was seeking “damages of $50 million” (around $40m US dollars, or £30m) from the Canadian government “on the grounds that Canada’s security services co-operated with their US counterparts even though they knew the Americans were abusing him.”

Speaking from Algeria, Ameziane, who is now 50 years old, and who, in September, submitted his case to the  Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, seeking an apology from the US, said, “My current situation is really bad. I am struggling to survive. I was repatriated from Guantánamo and left, like, almost homeless. I couldn’t find a job because of the Guantánamo stigma and my age, so a settlement would be very helpful to me to get my life back together.”

In a draft statement of claim obtained by The Canadian Press, Ameziane’s lawyer, Nathan Whitling, states, “The Crown’s conduct constituted acquiescence and tacit consent to the torture inflicted upon the plaintiff,” explaining that Canadian intelligence “began sharing information with the Americans after failing to pick up on the 1999 ‘Millennium plot’ in which Ahmed Ressam, another Algerian who had been living in Montreal, aimed to blow up the Los Angeles airport,” and, as a result, interrogating Ameziane and Omar Khadr at Guantánamo.

Nate Whitling told the Canadian Press that “the government’s recent out-of-court settlement … with Khadr over violation of his rights has prevented scrutiny of Canada’s alleged complicity in abuses at Guantánamo Bay,” and that a “judicial inquiry is needed.”

As he described it, “Only then can the Canadian public come to understand the extent to which Canada is responsible for the torture of innocent detainees in the aftermath of 9/11.”

Whitling also said that Ameziane “would be prepared to put the claim on hold in exchange for an inquiry,” and added that “two other people” — he did not provide names — “planned similar suits that name the federal government, RCMP and Canadian Security and Intelligence Service.”

Speaking about his lawsuit, Ameziane said, “For many years, I had the idea of suing the Canadian government, but didn’t know how, and honestly didn’t know it was possible until I read the news about the settlement of Omar Khadr, who was my fellow inmate in Guantánamo Bay. The action I am taking may also make [Canadian officials] think twice before acting against the interests of Canada and Canada’s human values.”

Ameziane’s claim reiterates his story, which is well-known to anyone who has studied Guantánamo closely. As the Canadian Press describes it, he “left Algeria in the 1990s to escape rising violence there. After working as a chef in Austria, he came to Canada in December 1995 and asked for refugee status. He lived in Montreal for five years, attending mosques where the Americans said members of al-Qaida prayed. When Canada rejected his request for asylum, Ameziane opted to go to Afghanistan rather than Algeria, where he feared abuse. He left Afghanistan for Pakistan in October 2001 when fighting erupted, but was captured and turned over to American forces in exchange for a bounty.”

US forces then “took him to a detention facility in Kandahar, where he alleges guards brutalized him, then sent him to Guantánamo Bay based partly on information provided by Canadian intelligence, according to his claim.”

Ameziane has also explained that “Canadian agents interviewed him in Guantánamo in February and May 2003 and turned over recordings of the interrogations to the Americans,” and he claims that they did so “despite widespread allegations that US forces were abusing detainees and even though they knew he faced no charges and had no access to a lawyer or the courts.”

Ameziane also alleges that “American officials interrogated him hundreds of times and abused him when they decided he wasn’t co-operating,” using forms of torture including “sleep-deprivation, intrusive genital searches, pepper-spraying, waterboarding, being left in freezing conditions, and having his head slammed against walls and the floor, dislocating his jaw.”

Speaking of his experiences with Canadian agents, Ameziane said that they “came to interview me on two occasions [and] they not only shared information about me with my American torturers, but even tried to get information out of me that had nothing to do with Canada in order to help my American torturers. I refused to answer questions. After that, I was subjected to a worse treatment by the Americans.”

Time will tell if Djamel Ameziane’s claim is successful, but in the meantime, while the Canadian government deserves respect for having dealt with its journey to the “dark side” in the “war on terror” — though the five cases of Maher Arar, Omar Khadr, Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El Maati and Muayyed Nureddin — it is noticeable that the US still refuses to consider any claims of compensation from the tens of thousands of people it abused in the years following the 9/11 attacks — in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Guantánamo and in its global network of “black sites,” including proxy torture sites like those in Syria. The closest the US has come to accountability was an out-of-court settlement this August by two former US military contractors, the psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who were the architects of the Bush administration’s post-9/11 torture program.

41 men still remain in Guantánamo, and the least the US should do is to close the prison and then to begin to think about compensating those who have been treated so lawlessly and with such brutality in the years since. But with Donald Trump in the White House, of course, no one should hold their breath hoping for positive change. America went to the “dark side” after 9/11, and shows no sign of returning to the light in the imminent future.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Donald Trump No! Please Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2017), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

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4 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, reporting on the welcome news that, last week, the Canadian government confirmed that it had paid $31.25 million to Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El Maati and Muayyed Nuruddin, three Canadian citizens of Syrian origin who, on the basis of false allegations that they had connections with terrorism, made by Canadian intelligence and the police, were tortured in Syrian prisons in the early years of the “war on terror.” They join Maher Arar and Omar Khadr in having received compensation for Canada’s involvement in their torture, and former Guantanamo prisoner Djamel Ameziane has now been encouraged to pursue his own claim against the Canadian government for complicity in his torture in Guantanamo. As I also note, however, “the US still refuses to consider any claims of compensation from the tens of thousands of people it abused in the years following the 9/11 attacks — in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Guantanamo and in its global network of ‘black sites,’ including proxy torture sites like those in Syria.”

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    I’m hoping this is getting out to people. I saw the story of Djamel Ameziane’s claim just a few days ago, which, in turn, led me to the great news of the damages awarded to Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El Maati and Muayyed Nuruddin, who were tortured in Syria. That story was first mentioned earlier this year, but I missed it at the time, although it’s of interest to me because I was specifically looking into their cases around eight years ago, and even exchanged a few emails at the time with Abdullah Almalki.
    So the Canadian government did some terrible things in the “war on terror” – not least in its treatment of Omar Khadr – but these developments are very positive, and, of course, only shine a light on how wretchedly unaccountable the United States remains.

  3. arcticredriver says...

    Thanks Andy for your important on-going efforts to focus scrutiny on these important issues.

    I regard these issues as important not just from a perspective of justice. Public safety is put at risk when security officials are allowed to evade scrutiny by making claims that security concerns bar subjecting their mistakes to the appropriate kinds of review.

    I think I can add a few more pieces of relevant information. I think Ahmed Ressam is in a Supermax. I remember reading that, over a decade ago, he wrote to the judge who sentenced him, saying that, during the investigation that preceded the trial he had felt pressured to falsely denounce associates of his who were actually innocent.

    My recollection of the Maher Arar case is that the allegation against him that US oficials took most seriously was his friendship with Abdullah Almalki. They had a copy of Arar’s lease on a new apartment that Almalki had witnessed. During his two weeks of interrogation in NYC Arar had denied being close to Almalki. Then US officials confronted him with Almalki’s signature on the lease. If they weren’t close why was he the witness to the lease? Arar’s explanation was that he was good friends with Almalki’s older brothers, and asked him to witness the lease, but he was tied up, so he sent his kid brother.

    That was a perfectly reasonable explanation. Of course there was no genuine reason to suspect Almalki, either. The main allegation against him was that he worked for Human Concern International, the same charity that Ahmed Said Khadr worked for. But this is a bad reason to detain him, torture him. Almalki said he didn’t get along with the older man, so they worked on separate projects, in different parts of Afghanistan. He volunteered in 1992, years before the Taliban took over, years before Osama bin Laden returned from Sudan, years before Ahmed Said Khadr was arrested by Pakistan.

    One of the individuals the Americans arrested worked as a driver for the Ottawa outlet of a parcel delivery service. Americans arrested him during a routine delivery in New York State.

    The then Attorney General Ashcroft claimed that through his arrest the USA had foiled plans to bomb important Canadian government buildings. The basis for this claim? Inside the cab of his truck American officials found a hand-drawn map, that they were able to determine showed the location of Government buildings, in the Greater Ottawa area.

    On a scale of zero to ten how suspicious should we regard a hand-drawn map? Pretty low I would say. But, suppose you are an American security official, and you already have a guy in the interrogation room, what kind of answer should make you drop your suspicion?

    Q: Why do you have a hand-drawn map of Government buildings in Ottawa? A: Well, the firm I work for makes a lot of deliveries to those buildings, and the special entrances to the loading docks are not always easy to find. Big trucks like mine can trigger a traffic jam, if we mistakenly use an entrance that is designed solely for passenger vehicles, with their tighter turning radii.

    If Ameziane gets a settlement it will be interesting to see if he too is given $10 million.

    Mohamedou Slahi also lived in Canada. It is likely he has as good a case as Ameziane.

    I’d like to see reporting on former Prime Minister Harper being asked humiliating questions at a judicial inquiry.

    I’ll add a couple of things you might already know Andy. That Toronto Star reporting would have been largely or entirely written by Michelle Shephard, who wrote Guantanamo’s Child. I’ll bet she would love to interview you.

    Nathan Whitling worked quite closely with Dennis Edney on Omar Khadr’s case. While Dennis was the public face of Omar’s defence, I think Whitling worked on it for just as long as he did.

    Thanks again!

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Great to hear from you, arcticredriver, and thanks for mentioning Ahmed Ressam. While I was writing the article I was thinking about Ressam’s false testimony, which, I believe, was shared by all the English-speaking intelligence agencies, and which also affected prisoners already in “black sites” and in Guantanamo, as well as leading to men being subjected to rendition, like the Canadians discussed here, or imprisoned without charge or trial on the basis of secret evidence, as seems to have happened in the UK. Someone should do a detailed study of that story one of these days!
    I met Michelle ten years ago, after my book came out, but before hers was published, when she was over in London. She was one of the first people to take an interest in my work, and also wrote a great review of “The Guantanamo Files.”
    I also agree with your assessment of Nate Whitling, as someone very important in the long saga of securing Omar Khadr’s freedom, along with Dennis Edney.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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