- Research Handbooks in International Law series
Edited by Ben Saul
Chapter 26: Terrorism, surveillance and privacy
In September 2002 a Canadian citizen named Maher Arar was detained by US officials while transiting through New York’s John F Kennedy International Airport. He was held for 12 days before being flown to Jordan and then Syria, the country of his birth, where he was interrogated and tortured. After being imprisoned for nearly a year in a grave-sized underground cell, he was released and returned to Canada. Arar was never charged with an offence in any of these countries. Although Canadian officials had wanted to interview him as part of a terrorism-related investigation, they did not consider him a suspect or target of that investigation. A public inquiry cleared him of any suspicion, sharply criticized the actions of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and other Canadian government departments, and prompted a formal protest to the US over his treatment. The Canadian Prime Minister gave Arar an apology and 10 million dollars in an out-of-court settlement for the ordeal. A lawsuit against various senior officials in the Bush administration was dismissed at first instance and on multiple appeals. Arar remains on a terrorist watch-list used by US authorities. The reasons for Arar’s detention by US authorities can be traced to the mishandling of intelligence by Canadian officials. In the wake of the September 11 attacks, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) transferred responsibility for certain investigations of alleged terrorists to the RCMP, Canada’s national police force.
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