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4/23/22 Ex-Guantanamo detainee sues Canada over 14-year ordeal of detention and torture PDF Print E-mail

By Michelle Shepherd

From Toronto Star | Original Article

A former Guantanamo detainee, whose story of detention and torture was featured in a best-selling memoir and Hollywood film, is going to court to try to force the Canadian government to reveal its role in his ordeal.

Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a Mauritanian who lived briefly in Montreal, has launched a $30-million lawsuit against the federal government. He alleges Canadian officials made false claims about him that were then relied upon by his Mauritanian, Jordanian and American interrogators during his more than 14 years of imprisonment without charge.

“Canada’s sharing of flawed intelligence sparked a vicious echo chamber,” reads Slahi’s statement of claim, which was filed in Federal Court on Friday.

Slahi claims that Canadian agents were eager to share information with their American counterparts to atone for past failures, and then continued to co-operate with the U.S. government using flawed intelligence, even when it was clear that captives at the CIA’s “black sites” — secret detention facilities — and in Guantanamo Bay were being tortured.

“Canadian authorities took statements made by Slahi out of context, then presented them to American authorities as definitive proof of wrongdoing, despite their knowledge (or reckless disregard or wilful blindness) that Slahi risked being mistreated as a result,” the court filing states.

Mohamedou Ould Slahi is pictured in Nouakchott, Mauritania, in 2016m after he was reunited with his family after 14 years of detention. His publication of "Guantanamo Diary" and a subsequent Hollywood film brought attention to his case.

The Attorney General of Canada has not yet responded to Slahi’s allegations against officials with Canada’s police force and spy agency, the RCMP and CSIS.

Concern over improper intelligence sharing is not a new issue for Canada. Other high-profile cases involving Muslim men have already resulted in two exhaustive public inquiries, and at least five multimillion-dollar settlements to Canadians who were tortured by foreign governments.

Slahi, 51, is now a writer-in-residence at the Dutch theatre company, Noord Nederlands Toneel, after moving there from his homeland in Western Africa in December. “You know on paper, Canada is really good,” Slahi said during an interview over Zoom. “But my impression is that there are some officials in Canada that are really worried about making the United States angry (and) they are ready to break the law.”

Slahi’s personal story, like many of those who have been held at CIA detention centres and the offshore American prison since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, spans decades and continents. It exposes some of the most horrific aspects of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and their aftermath.

The extent of his physical and psychological torture, under what the U.S. administration of George W. Bush termed its “enhanced interrogation techniques,” was detailed in a recent New York Times feature about Slahi. It described how among other treatments, he endured beatings so fierce that his ribs were broken, and he was deprived of sleep for months.

Slahi says he eventually confessed to whatever his interrogators told him to say — which included a statement that he had plotted to blow up Toronto’s CN Tower. “The CN Tower? Sorry but I never heard of it before then,” Slahi said in the interview with Star, noting he had never been to Toronto. By that point in his interrogations though, he said, he was a broken man — “just like a stone.”

The U.S. military prosecutor on Slahi’s case later resigned, refusing to go to a military court based on what he believed were statements obtained through torture.

While Slahi’s story exposes, in excruciating detail, America’s legacy of torture after 9/11, it also reveals just how intelligence was shared between governments in the name of national security and the consequences of those actions.

In 2007, Maher Arar was given $10.5 million in compensation and an apology from then-prime minister Stephen Harper for the actions of Canadian officials, which contributed to his detention and torture in Syria. Ten years later, Canadian Omar Khadr was also given a $10.5-million settlement and apology from the Trudeau government, for breaching his charter rights while he was held as a juvenile in Guantanamo. Three other Canadians — Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El Maati and Muayyed Nureddin — also received $10 million each in compensation for their torture while detained in Syria and Egypt.

Slahi’s lawyers argue that these cases all point to the larger issue of how Canadian authorities targeted Muslim communities after 9/11, helping give rise to widespread Islamophobia.

“If the (Trudeau) government is serious about combating Islamophobia, as it says it is, then that cannot be done without accountability in cases like this,” argues Slahi’s Toronto lawyer, Louis Century. “The fundamental cause of Islamophobia in the first place, is the actions by state security agencies that vilified Muslim communities and created fear and hostility toward Muslim people … we need to have this kind of truth-seeking process.”

What makes Slahi’s claim a slightly different legal test for the courts from previous cases is the fact that he was a permanent resident, not a citizen, while living in Canada. But Century argues that Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms still applies.

“The majority of the conduct being challenged took place while Mohamedou was physically present in Canada, and/or while CSIS and RCMP officials were operating in Canada, sharing flawed information about Mohamedou,” Century said, adding that Canada’s actions also violated other legal obligations, including not condoning or being complicit in torture.

A detainee is shackled while participating in a "Life Skills" class taught inside the U.S.-run prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 2010.


Slahi came to the attention of Canadian authorities in December 1999, when he lived as a permanent resident in Montreal and prayed at the same Montreal mosque as Algerian Ahmed Ressam, the so-called “Millennium Bomber.” Ressam was arrested on Dec. 14, 1999, as he tried to cross into the United States with a car full of explosives, destined for Los Angeles International Airport on New Year’s Eve.

Slahi had previously lived in Germany, where he got an electrical engineering degree — becoming the first of his family of 14 to travel abroad for an education. In 1991-92, he interrupted his studies twice to travel to Afghanistan and join U.S.-backed Mujahedeen fighting against the Soviets. While he said he later became disillusioned with their fight once back in Germany, one of his cousins stayed on, eventually rising through the ranks of al-Qaida as it grew in strength in the late 1990s.

Unable to get permanent residency in Germany, Slahi decided to move to Canada and arrived here on Nov. 26, 1999. Suspicion concerning his time in Afghanistan and links to al-Qaida followed him when three weeks after Slahi’s arrival in Montreal, Ressam was arrested. Despite having never met Ressam (Ressam left Montreal the week before Slahi arrived) he was questioned by the RCMP about the New Year’s Eve plot and aggressively followed. He said he could no longer stand the surveillance and returned to Mauritania in January 2000.

But while under surveillance here, Slahi made a phone call that would haunt him for years. He asked a friend for “tea and sugar.” Canadian authorities believed “tea and sugar” was coded language for explosives.

In his statement of claim, Slahi argues that “Ressam’s arrest was a source of humiliation for Canadian authorities, who had been alerted by France about Ressam’s presence in Canada but failed to locate him and failed to disrupt his terrorist plans. In reaction to this sense of humiliation, Canadian authorities, including CSIS and the RCMP, began an aggressive investigation targeting the Muslim immigrant community in Montreal.”

Then came the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and two months later, at the behest of American authorities, Slahi was detained by Mauritanian authorities and flown to a CIA black site in Jordan, where he was interrogated for eight months.

From there, he was rendered to the U.S. base in Bagram, Afghanistan, and eventually to Guantanamo in August 2002, where he remained until his release in October 2016. Although Slahi had also been under surveillance while living in Germany and had even crossed paths of two of the men who would become 9/11 hijackers, he says his U.S. interrogators were instead “obsessed” with information that had clearly been provided by Canadian authorities. The “tea and sugar” call, he says, was cited repeatedly.

In his recent interview from the Netherlands, Slahi’s frustration with this line of interrogation was still evident. “I really just wanted tea and sugar,” he said.

But after months of detention and torture, he broke down in Guantanamo, and agreed it was code for explosives needed for his plot to blow up the CN Tower. In his memoir, “Guantanamo Diaries,” which his American lawyers succeeded in having declassified and became a best-selling book in 2015, Slahi wrote that, “confessions are like beads of a necklace: if the bead falls, the rest follow.” His book was later republished as “The Mauritanian,” and was adapted for the Hollywood film of the same name, starring Jodie Foster, Tahar Rahim and Benedict Cumberbatch.

While Canadian authorities have never discussed their investigation into Slahi, the Star first revealed that CSIS had not only provided information to the Americans, but also that agents from CSIS travelled to Guantanamo in 2003 to question him. These visits are cited in Slahi’s legal claim as one of Canada’s actions that Slahi alleges condoned his torture at the hands of American interrogators.

And just last year, Fred Humphries, one of the FBI agents who investigated the Ahmed Ressam millennium plot, told La Presse that Canadian authorities had “exaggerated the importance” of the intelligence they shared with U.S. authorities, such as the “tea and sugar” call.

Mark Fallon, who was a part of a criminal investigative task force at Guantanamo, also told the Montreal newspaper that information about Slahi was “pure conjecture” and drew “unjustified conclusions.”

While Slahi cites these statements in his claim as proof that any Canadian intelligence on him was flawed, what he wants now is for Canada to come clean and open his case file. He says he’s “plagued by nightmares” and still has long-lasting effects from interrogations.

“If they think I did something wrong, they just need to come in and say, Mohamedou, you did this and this, and put it in the public, and I’m ready to pay,” he said. “And if I didn’t do anything, they need to apologize to say this was a big mistake.”



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