The Canadian government is no longer using evidence gained from CIA interrogations of a top Al Qaeda detainee who was waterboarded.
According to documents obtained by Newsweek, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), the country's national-security agency, last month quietly withdrew statements by alleged Al Qaeda leader Abu Zubaydah from public papers outlining the case against two alleged terror "sleeper" operatives in Ottawa and Montreal.
The move, which so far has received no public attention, is the latest sign of potential international fallout from the CIA's recent confirmation that it waterboarded a handful of high-profile Al Qaeda suspects in 2002 and 2003. The use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques were approved by the Bush White House and Justice Department. Waterboarding, which critics charge is a form of torture, involves strapping a suspect to an inclined board and forcing water into his lungs, typically by pouring water through a cloth placed over his nose and mouth.
The Canadian cases involve two men: Mohammed Harkat, an Algerian native living in Ottawa, and Moroccan-born Adil Charkaoui of Montreal. Both were arrested after the September 11 terror attacks and detained without charges on suspicions of links to Al Qaeda. Unable to develop enough evidence to bring criminal charges against either man, the CSIS sought to deport them on grounds that they had both allegedly spent time in Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan in the 1990s. (Both men now have been released on bail but remain under government scrutiny). [Full story with links here.]
After some digging, I found this story in the Ottawa Citizen, from two weeks prior to the Newsweek story. After giving the background, it says:
Mr. Harkat's lawyer, Paul Copeland, believes Mr. Zubaydah -- and Canada's failure to inquire about his treatment -- should be central issues in the government's case against his client. What's more, Mr. Copeland contends that CSIS' willingness to accept Mr. Zubaydah's statement without regard for his waterboarding evinces something that should trouble all Canadians: that its spy agency "turns a blind eye to torture." Mr. Copeland was so disturbed by what he considered CSIS' intentional disregard for human rights in the Zubaydah case that he lodged a formal complaint with the spy agency's federal watchdog in November 2005.
That complaint triggered a two-year investigation by the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC), which this week made public one version of its final report. That report offers a detailed -- and at times critical -- account of the spy agency's attitude toward torture as practised by other security and intelligence organizations.
The presiding member of the review committee, lawyer Aldéa Landry, wrote: "Although I do not find evidence of a 'total lack of concern' on the part of CSIS regarding evidence obtained by torture, I find that at the time this complaint was made CSIS did lack specific policies aimed at eliminating any possible Canadian complicity in torture." Ms. Landry found that CSIS' concern focused on the impact that torture might have on the reliability of information, rather than how their use of that intelligence could violate Canada's treaty obligations to reject torture.
"I find that CSIS is concerned with human rights, but nevertheless uses information obtained by torture," Ms. Landry concluded in the public version of her report.
A secret version of her report made other, undisclosed findings.
To many observers, however, the watchdog's public report raised almost as many questions as it answered: Does Mr. Zubaydah's waterboarding constitute torture in the eyes of CSIS? Will CSIS and federal lawyers continue to use his evidence? Does CSIS encourage torture by using information from mistreated suspects like Mr. Zubaydah? Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, said CSIS cannot claim to be concerned with human rights if it continues to use information drawn from tortured suspects.
"If those who torture find there is no market for the information they obtain under torture, that perhaps becomes one small piece of eradicating torture. But when they find a ready audience of intelligence officials, diplomats and military authorities willing to receive that information, and make use of it, then of course they're going to continue." CSIS spokeswoman Manon Bérubé noted that agency director Jim Judd has denounced torture as "morally repugnant." "CSIS does not knowingly use information which may have been obtained through torture," she insisted.
CSIS has used information from Mr. Zubaydah against both Mr. Harkat and Montreal terror suspect Adil Charkaoui, both of whom are about to begin new hearings on the merits of their security certificates.
The Supreme Court ruled last year that the process used in their previous hearings was fundamentally unjust.
Mr. Neve contends the government cannot again rely on the "tainted" Zubaydah evidence because it was obtained through waterboarding, a practice that clearly fits within the treaty definition of torture.
So if CSIS has dropped the statements obtained through CIA-sponsored torture, they've done so extremely quietly. A baby step in the right direction?