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Context of 'October 7-22, 2002: FBI Agent Involved in Pre-9/11 Failures Interrogates Canadian Minor, Who Confesses to Knowing Other Alleged Terrorist'

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Robert Fuller, an inexperienced FBI agent, searches for hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar in the US on this day (see September 4-5, 2001). He claims that his search includes querying the ChoicePoint database. ChoicePoint is one of several companies maintaining commerical databases on personal information about US citizens. The FBI has a contract to access the ChoicePoint database, but none of the others. Fuller supposedly does not find any record on either Alhazmi or Almihdhar. He suggests this is because of variations in the spelling of names. However, the chairman of ChoicePoint will later confirm that although the database did have information on the hijackers before 9/11, the FBI did not ask to search the database until shortly after 9/11. The 9/11 Commission will conclude the database was not searched, and notes, “Searches of readily available databases could have unearthed” their California drivers’ licenses, car registrations, and telephone listings. Thomas Pickard, acting FBI Director at the time this search is made, will later falsely claim in public testimony before the 9/11 Commission that the FBI was not allowed to search the ChoicePoint database before 9/11. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 539; US Department of Justice 11/2004; Kinkead 11/28/2004) An FBI timeline put together shortly after 9/11 will mention that Alhazmi’s 2000 San Diego phone number was in the ChoicePoint database. The exact spelling for the phone number listing was Nawaf M. Al Hazmi. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 10/2001, pp. 59 pdf file)

Maher Arar.Maher Arar. [Source: Chris Wattie / Reuters]On his way home to Montreal, Maher Arar, a 34-year old IT specialist, makes a stopover at JFK International Airport in New York. He is returning alone from a family holiday with his wife and daughter in Tunisia. At the airport, Arar, who was born in Syria and has dual Syrian and Canadian citizenship, is arrested by officers wearing badges from the FBI and the New York Police Department. Arar happens to be on a terrorist watch list. A US official later says Arar has the names of “a large number of known al-Qaeda operatives, affiliates or associates” on him. (Priest 11/19/2003) Canadian Solicitor General Wayne Easter later admits that Canada contributed information that led to Arar’s arrest. (Priest 11/20/2003) In an interrogation room Arar asks for an attorney, but, as he later publishes on his website, is told he has no right to a lawyer because he is not an American citizen. Subsequent requests for a lawyer are ignored and the interrogation continues until midnight. His interrogators are particularly interested in another Canadian by the name of Abdullah Almalki. Arar says he has worked together with his brother, Nazih Almalki, but knows Abdullah only casually. Then, with his hands and feet in shackles, he is taken to a nearby building and put in a cell around 1 a.m. “I could not sleep,” Arar later writes. “I was very, very scared and disoriented.” (Amnesty International 8/19/2003; Arar 11/6/2003; CBS News 1/22/2004; Priest and Stephens 5/11/2004; CBC News 11/26/2004; Maher Arar 1/15/2005)

FBI agent Robert Fuller interrogates Canadian citizen Omar Khadr at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Fuller is an FBI agent who failed to locate the 9/11 hijackers in the US before 9/11 (see September 4, 2001, September 4-5, 2001, and September 4-5, 2001), while Khadr is a minor accused of throwing a hand grenade that killed a US soldier in Afghanistan. The interrogation lasts from October 7 to October 22. On the first day, Fuller shows Khadr a black-and-white photograph provided by the FBI in Massachusetts of Maher Arar, a Canadian terror suspect the US has been holding in New York (see September 26, 2002). Fuller will later say that Khadr identifies Arar as someone he has seen in a safe house run by al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and that he also “may have” seen Arar at a terror training camp near Kabul. However, at the time Khadr says he saw Arar in Afghanistan—September and October 2001—Arar was first in the US and then in Canada under surveillance by the local authorities, according to Walter Ruiz, a lawyer who will later represent Khadr. Ruiz will also point out that it takes Khadr several minutes to identify Arar. Another of Khadr’s lawyers, Lieutenant Commander Bill Kuebler, will say that Khadr repeatedly lies to his interrogators to avoid being abused. Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson decides that Arar will be deported to Syria on this day (see October 7, 2002), and the deportation is soon carried out (see October 8, 2002). However, it is unclear whether Thompson’s decision is motivated by Fuller’s interrogation of Khadr or other factors. (CBC News 1/20/2009; Edwards 1/20/2009) Fuller will testify about the identification at a Guantanamo hearing (see January 19, 2009), but facts calling it into question will emerge under cross-examination (see January 20, 2009).

At 3 o’clock in the morning, Maher Arar is woken up in his cell in New York and taken to another room where he is stripped, searched, shackled, and chained. Two officials read him a decision by the director of the INS, saying that he will be deported to Syria and, as Arar recalls it, “that INS was not the body that deals with Geneva Convention regarding torture.” There is no such convention, but this is probably a reference to the Convention Against Torture (CAT—see October 21, 1994). However, Article 3 of the CAT states: “No State Party shall expel… a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.” In addition, the US immigration law cited to justify Arar’s deportation prohibits sending individuals to a country where “it is more likely than not that they will be tortured.” A Justice Department spokesman nevertheless maintains that “the removal of Mr. Arar was accomplished after interagency consultation and in full compliance with the law and with all relevant international treaties and conventions.” (Priest 11/19/2003) On that early morning of October 8, Arar is put on a small jet. After a landing in Washington, a “special removal unit,” a term Arar overheard, boards the plane and is at this point in custody of the CIA. (Brown 11/12/2003; Priest and Stephens 5/11/2004) “They said Syria was refusing to take me directly,” Arar will later recall, “and I would have to fly to Jordan.” Torture is again his prime thought. “At that time I was thinking of what would happen once I arrived in Syria and how am I to avoid torture.” Via Portland, Maine, and Rome, the jet lands in Amman, Jordan, where six or seven Jordanians are waiting for him. Without a word being spoken Arar is handed over. Blindfolded and chained, he is put in a van, and “right away,… they started beating me,” Arar recalls. Half an hour later inside a building, he is subjected to more questioning. (CBC News 11/26/2004)

Robert Fuller, an FBI agent who interrogated Canadian terror suspect Omar Khadr at Bagram Air Base in 2002 (see October 7-22, 2002), testifies about the interrogation at a Guantanamo hearing. The hearing was requested by Khadr’s defence team, to have self-incriminating statements Khadr made during interrogations suppressed ahead of proceedings before a military commission. Fuller says that, during the interrogation, Khadr told him he recognised a man named Maher Arar from a safe house run by al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and also possibly from a terror training camp. “He identified him by name,” Fuller says. (CBC News 1/20/2009; Edwards 1/20/2009) However, cross-examination by the defense the next day will raise several issues that cast doubt on the identification (see January 20, 2009).

Under cross-examination at a pre-military commission hearing, FBI agent Robert Fuller provides a version of an interrogation of detainee Omar Khadr different to the one he gave a day earlier under direct examination (see January 19, 2009). Fuller had previously described an interrogation of Khadr at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan where Khadr linked a terror suspect named Maher Arar to al-Qaeda (see October 7-22, 2002) through a photograph identification. However, a lawyer for Khadr pulls out Fuller’s contemporary report of the interrogation and shows that the identification did not happen immediately, as Fuller initially claimed, but that it took several minutes. Lawyers for Khadr will also argue that their client made false statements to interrogators to avoid abuse, and that Arar was in the US and Canada at the time Khadr said he saw him in Afghanistan. (CBC News 1/20/2009; Edwards 1/20/2009)


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