You may have heard the story of Maher Arar before. If so, you knew it was bad. But yesterday it got worse.
In 2002, Arar, a Syrian born Canadian, had the bad fortune to be suspected of al Qaeda ties by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police; the RCMP then asked U.S. authorities to put Arar and his wife on its al Qaeda watchlist.
So when Arar tried to change planes in New York in September of that year, U.S. authorities held him for questioning for 12 days, then transported him to Syria. Once there, he was beaten and kept in a dungeon for 10 months before he was released.
For two and a half years, a Canadian commission has been investigating Arar's case. And on Monday, they found that the RCMP's intelligence, which set the whole terrible chain of events in motion, was bunk. Basically, Arar just had the misfortune to be seen talking to the wrong people. The head of the inquiry commission, Ontario Justice Dennis O'Connor, concluded that "categorically there is no evidence" that Arar was a threat.
But here comes the most sobering part, as rendered in The Washington Post's write up
of the report:
[Counsel for the commission] Paul Cavalluzzo said the Canadian agents apparently operated without proper training. "The best one can say is that it was sheer incompetence. They did not appreciate the fact that the branding of someone as a 'target' or 'suspect' or 'Islamic extremist' to Americans in 2002 could lead to disastrous consequences."
After Arar was detained in New York, Canadian authorities apparently were unaware the Americans were preparing to send him to Syria, according to the commission finding.
The RCMP contact, Inspector Michel Cabana, "was under the impression that Mr. Arar would only be detained for a short time," O'Connor's report said. "In his view, Mr. Arar was being held in a country with many of the same values as Canada."