Cracks show in FBI agent's testimony on Khadr

Under cross-examination, agent testifies Khadr said he saw Arar in Afghanistan in 2001, but engineer was in Canada at the time


From Wednesday's Globe and Mail

January 21, 2009 at 3:08 AM EST

An FBI agent's testimony that Omar Khadr said he saw Maher Arar in Afghanistan appeared significantly weaker yesterday than it did the day before - and, in the case of at least one key detail, at odds with reality.

Robert Fuller, a prosecution witness in the Pentagon's Guantanamo Bay case against Mr. Khadr, testified on Monday that Mr. Khadr, during a 2002 interrogation at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, identified a photo of Mr. Arar and said he had seen him in a Kabul safe house run by an alleged terrorist. But defence lawyers yesterday produced a report written by Mr. Fuller in which he states that Mr. Khadr told him he saw Mr. Arar in Afghanistan in September or October of 2001.

The problem is, Mr. Arar was in Canada in October, 2001, as the Arar commission's findings clearly show. U.S. authorities also know he was in California the previous month.

Under cross-examination yesterday by Mr. Khadr's U.S. military defence lawyers, Mr. Fuller admitted that Mr. Khadr could not immediately name Mr. Arar, but that agents gave him "a couple of minutes maybe" to think about it.

Mr. Khadr's interrogation at the hands of Mr. Fuller began on Oct. 7, the day before U.S. authorities transferred Mr. Arar to the Middle East. It appears that the entire Oct. 7 interrogation was focused on Mr. Arar, and that Mr. Khadr's information became one of the "multiple sources" of intelligence the U.S. Department of Justice used to defend its claim that Mr. Arar is a member of al-Qaeda, and its decision to send him to Syria in October of 2002.

It was almost exactly one year earlier - when Mr. Fuller said Mr. Khadr told him he saw Mr. Arar in Afghanistan - that the Mounties were running surveillance on an Ottawa exporter, Abdullah Almalki, who was spotted meeting Mr. Arar at a restaurant that Oct. 12. The RCMP spent the next month digging into Mr. Arar's life, including running periodic surveillance on him and his house.

But after a month's investigation they "observed nothing unusual" and moved on. No criminal allegations arose in Canada. Regardless, through a remarkable set of circumstances, both Mr. Arar and Mr. Almalki were jailed the next year in Syria, where they were interrogated by the same military squads.

Judges have concluded the men were tortured and that the deficiencies of Canadian investigators contributed to their ordeals.

The Arar inquiry, led by Mr. Justice Dennis O'Connor, found that Canadian agents circulated inflammatory and false information concerning Mr. Arar prior to the U.S. decision to "remove" him to Syria.

For that reason, Ottawa officials have apologized to Mr. Arar, compensated his family to the tune of $10.5-million, and repeatedly urged U.S. officials to remove him from a terrorist watch list.

Officials with the George W. Bush administration have never followed through nor apologized, claiming that "multiple sources" implicated Mr. Arar. Until this week, it had not been known that Omar Khadr was one of those sources.

Defence lawyers in the Khadr case quickly pointed to their client's demonstrably untrue statement about Mr. Arar's whereabouts to advance their argument that Mr. Khadr would regularly lie to his interrogators to keep them from abusing him. It is for that reason that the defence team is asking for all Mr. Khadr's statements during that time - including his alleged confession to killing a U.S. soldier - to be thrown out.

Mr. Khadr had already been extensively interrogated by the time Mr. Fuller got to him - his defence lawyers say their client's first interrogation took place the day he regained consciousness in a U.S. military hospital in Afghanistan, after he was shot and severely wounded in a firefight.



Maher Arar has said he has never been "anywhere near" Afghanistan. The U.S. government has insisted it used "multiple sources" to brand him a threat.

What's not contentious is that, over the years, North American agents have crossed the world with the Canadian engineer's mug shot, in hopes of generating intelligence.

Much of what's resulted has proven highly disturbing, and not for the reasons that agents had in mind. The focus has instead been on the methods used to elicit information of dubious value.


(NOVEMBER, 2001)

The statement: A Canadian Arab jailed in Syria right after Sept. 11, 2001, has stated that he was forced to say he had once seen Mr. Arar in Afghanistan. This occurred nearly a year before Mr. Arar was sent to the same jail to face the same interrogators.

The problem: Ahmad Abou El Maati, who served with the Afghan mujahedeen, says the statement was falsely made to appease his captors. Judges have characterized his admissions as the unreliable product of severe torture.


(OCTOBER, 2002)

The statement: An FBI agent has testified that the 15-year-old fighter captured in Afghanistan recognized a photo of Mr. Arar.

The problem: The interrogation of the war-wounded teenager was equivalent to torture, activists say. Details of the intelligence - kept secret for seven years - do not accord with other allegations.


(OCTOBER, 2003)

The statement: Once Mr. Arar returned to Canada to draw attention to his yearlong imprisonment in Syria, officials leaked a copy of his interrogation, during which he was coerced into stating that he went to the Khalden camp in Afghanistan for paramilitary training in 1993.

The problem: The leak is a falsehood and malicious smear, Mr. Arar and his supporters have said. Judges have found the account to be the unreliable product of torture.


(APRIL, 2004)

The statement: Five years ago, the FBI approached a Lebanese-born U.S. truck driver to press him on people of Arab background who went to Afghanistan. The Globe and Mail has reported that secret interview summaries indicate that Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi said he spent years in Afghanistan and that Mr. Arar briefly passed through.

The problem: The FBI ultimately arrested the trucker and charged him with lying to federal agents. Mr. Arar has said he never met Mr. Elzahabi, now being held incommunicado in El Paso, Tex.



The statement: Mr. Justice Dennis O'Connor spent years reviewing Canadian files before finding "there is no evidence to indicate that Mr. Arar has committed any offence or that his activities constitute a threat."

The judge never settled the Arar-in-Afghanistan question, beyond suggesting it was a red herring.

He wrote that thousands of religious Muslims flocked to the Afghan paramilitary camps before al-Qaeda reformed to urge an anti-U.S. jihad starting in the mid-1990s.


The Globe "closed" this article to comments.

What a hell of a good article by OMAR EL AKKAD AND COLIN FREEZE