|The Ottawa Citizen|
Accused terrorist Mohamed Harkat will testify for the first time in his own defence next week, but his lawyer says so many details of the allegations against him remain secret that it's impossible to prepare him for court.
Mr. Harkat, 35, is an Algerian refugee who worked as a gas station attendant and pizza delivery man before being arrested under a security certificate on Dec. 10, 2002. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) alleges that Mr. Harkat is a member of al-Qaeda and has repeatedly lied to them about his terrorist links.
Mr. Harkat denies any involvement with terrorists and intends to take the witness stand in Federal Court next week to proclaim his innocence.
"It's to give his evidence in response to what little we know about the case," Mr. Harkat's lawyer, Paul Copeland, said in an interview yesterday.
Asked how he's preparing his client to give evidence and face cross-examination under those circumstances, he said: "It's impossible, it's absolutely impossible. ... We have no idea what the evidence against him is."
Mr. Harkat will be testifying before Federal Court Judge Eleanor Dawson, who must decide whether the security certificate issued against him was reasonable.
Then-solicitor general Wayne Easter and citizenship and immigration minister Denis Coderre signed the certificate in December 2002, based on information supplied by CSIS.
If Judge Dawson finds the certificate was reasonable, Mr. Harkat can be deported to his native Algeria.
Mr. Copeland said he fears Mr. Harkat may be killed if returned to the country he left in 1990.
"In effect, at this point, I am regarding this case to be as serious as a capital punishment case," he wrote in a recent letter filed with the Federal Court.
CSIS, in its 40-page brief filed with the court, claims Mr. Harkat has attempted to cover his tracks as a terrorist since arriving in Canada in September 1995 after five years as a relief worker with the Muslim World League in Pakistan.
CSIS alleges Mr. Harkat travelled to Afghanistan in that time and developed an association with Abu Zubaida, one of Osama bin Laden's top lieutenants. Mr. Zubaida was arrested in March 2002 in Pakistan and later handed over to U.S. officials.
CSIS claims Mr. Zubaida has identified Mr. Harkat "by description and activity" as operating a guest house in Peshawar, Pakistan, for mujahideen travelling to Chechnya.
Mr. Harkat insists he has never met Mr. Zubaida and that he has nothing to do with al-Qaeda.
Mr. Copeland has asked the court to give him more detail about the CSIS allegations, while demanding the right to cross-examine those CSIS officials who built the brief against Mr. Harkat.
But Justice Dawson has ruled against those requests, saying she believes CSIS has disclosed all of the information it can without compromising national security.
In addition, she said in a recent ruling, "I accept that a security intelligence report is not the product of one person's work. I am therefore satisfied that one person would not be capable of responding properly or accurately to questions based on the whole of the summary, which is in turn based upon the whole of the security intelligence report."
Justice Dawson, however, gave to Mr. Copeland the right to ask written questions for the purpose of "clarifying any matter" set out in the CSIS brief.
Mr. Copeland has since filed more than 230 questions with James Mathieson, counsel for CSIS.
In making his request for more information, Mr. Copeland writes: "My role as counsel in this matter is almost impossible to fulfil. Neither I, nor my client, know the case that we have to meet. Generally speaking, I will be unable to test the quality of the evidence and the qualifications of those people who have put together the brief against Mr. Harkat."
In his question list, Mr. Copeland repeatedly asks who formed specific beliefs about Mr. Harkat's alleged terrorist connections on behalf of CSIS, the relevant training of those people, their experience in the field, and the basis for their findings.
Central to the CSIS case against Mr. Harkat is the contention that he travelled to Afghanistan and formed an association with Mr. Zubaida. Among
Mr. Copeland's specific queries regarding that allegation:
- Please advise me of the the dates when the Service (CSIS) alleges that my client was in Afghanistan.
- Please advise me of the activities it is alleged my client engaged in while in Afghanistan on those dates.
- Please advise me in a general way of the basis on which the Service formed the belief that my client had been in Afghanistan.
- Please advise Justice Dawson of all evidence that the Service relies upon to establish that my client was in Afghanistan. Please advise her if there is evidence which tends to show my client was never in Afghanistan.
The Federal Court hearing into the Harkat case begins Monday.
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On the web for seven-day subscribers: The case against Harkat: CSIS is sure the Ottawa man is an al-Qaeda sleeper. But even his lawyer isn't allowed to see the evidence. A look at what we do know.