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Context of 'August 19, 2003: Maher Arar is Forced to Sign a False Confession'

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In 1997, Canadian intelligence begins investigating Abdullah Almalki, a Canadian exporter originally from Syria. Almalki is working with Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi and Abdelrahman Elzahabi, who are brothers and business partners, to send electronic equipment to Pakistan. Around 1995, the three of them sent large numbers of portable field radios to Pakistan. Apparently, some of them are used by Taliban and al-Qaeda forces (the US will later recover many field radios of the same make and model in Afghanistan after 9/11). However, there is no law against exporting the radios, and investigators are unable to prove any crime was committed. Abdelrahman is working in New York City as a mechanic while Mohamad Kamal is working in Boston as a taxi driver. Three other taxi drivers at the same company are al-Qaeda operatives who knew each other and Mohamad Kamal in Afghanistan (see Late 1980s and June 1995-Early 1999), and he will later admit to being a sniper instructor at the Khaldan training camp in Afghanistan in the early 1990s. The FBI in Boston begins investigating him in 1999, but fails to prove he is a terrorist. They lose track of him when he leaves the US later that year to fight the Russians in Chechnya. The FBI later discovers him driving trucks in Minnesota and arrests him for lying to federal agents about his knowledge of the field radios (see Mid-August 2001). [Globe and Mail, 3/17/2007] It seems probable that the investigation of Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi strengthens suspicions about a Boston al-Qaeda cell. One of his associates at the taxi company, Raed Hijazi, works as an FBI informant starting in 1997 (see Early 1997-Late 1998]), and another, Nabil al-Marabh, is questioned by the FBI in 1999 (see April 1999-August 1999). Almalki is later arrested in Syria while visiting relatives there and severely tortured before eventually being released and returned to Canada (see September 19 or 20, 2003).

Entity Tags: Raed Hijazi, Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi, Nabil al-Marabh, Abdullah Almalki, Abdelrahman Elzahabi, Khaldan training camp

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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. [Washington Post, 11/19/2003] Canadian Solicitor General Wayne Easter later admits that Canada contributed information that led to Arar’s arrest. [Washington Post, 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; CounterPunch, 11/6/2003; CBS News, 1/22/2004; Washington Post, 5/11/2004; CBC News, 11/26/2004; Maher Arar, 1/15/2005]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Abdullah Almalki, Wayne Easter, Al-Qaeda, Maher Arar

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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.” [Washington Post, 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. [Washington Post, 11/12/2003; Washington Post, 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]

Entity Tags: Maher Arar

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

The day following Maher Arar’s handover by the CIA to Jordanian authorities (see October 8, 2002), the overland journey to Syria resumes in various cars and again Arar is beaten. In the evening, Arar arrives at the so-called “Palestinian branch” of Syrian military intelligence. Interrogation begins. “I was very, very scared,” Arar will later recall. There is a metal chair in the corner, and each time Arar does not answer quickly enough, a Syrian colonel points at the chair and asks, “Do you want me to use this?” Arar later learns it is used for torture. Four hours later, he is taken to a cell in the basement. “It was like a grave,” Arar says. “It had no light. It was three feet wide. It was six feet deep. It was seven feet high.… There was a small opening in the ceiling, about one foot by two feet with iron bars. Over that was another ceiling, so only a little light came through this. There were cats and rats up there, and from time to time the cats peed through the opening into the cell. There were two blankets, two dishes, and two bottles. One bottle was for water and the other one was used for urinating during the night. Nothing else. No light. I spent ten months and ten days inside that grave.” [CBC News, 11/26/2004]

Entity Tags: Maher Arar

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

A day after his arrival at the “Palestinian Branch” prison in Syria (see October 9, 2002), Maher Arar’s captors begin torturing him. He will later claim, “The beating started… and was very intense for a week, and then less intense for another week. That second and the third days were the worst. I could hear other prisoners being tortured, and screaming and screaming. Interrogations are carried out in different rooms.” Only on this day, two days after his removal, is Canada officially informed of Arar’s deportation from the US. [CBC News, 11/26/2004] A few days later, Arar’s wife, Monia Mazigh, relays her concerns about his fate. “I don’t know even if he’s dead, alive, tortured, punished, anything,” she says. [CBC News, 10/16/2002] The next two days, his torturers use a two-inch thick black electrical cable to beat him all over his body, but mostly on his hands and wrists. They also threaten him with “the chair,” electric shocks and, while constrained inside a tire, with beatings on the sole of his feet. Another tactic is to scare him by putting him in a waiting room where he is forced to listen to the screams of other prisoners being tortured. On the third day, the interrogation round lasts about 18 hours. “They kept beating me so I had to falsely confess and told them I did go to Afghanistan. I was ready to confess to anything if it would stop the torture. They wanted me to say I went to a training camp. I was so scared I urinated on myself twice. The beating was less severe each of the following days. At the end of each day, they would always say, ‘Tomorrow will be harder for you.’ So each night, I could not sleep—I did not sleep for the first four days, and slept no more than two hours a day for about two months.” Interrogations and torture end around October 20, three days before Arar receives a visit from the Canadian consulate. With the colonel and three other Syrian officials present, Arar does not dare talk about his experiences. After the visit, he is required to sign a document, the contents of which are unknown to him, and on another document he is forced to write that he has been to Afghanistan. All in all, Arar receives seven consular visits and one from members of the Canadian parliament. He is never in the position, however, to tell his visitors about the torture and his grave-like cell. For six months he does not see any sunlight, except for during the interrogations and visits. He loses 40 pounds. “I had moments I wanted to kill myself. I was like a dead person.” [Washington Post, 11/12/2003]

Entity Tags: Maher Arar

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

In the Syrian “Palestine Branch” prison, Maher Arar is instructed by an interrogator to write a statement admitting that he went to a training camp in Afghanistan and sign it. He does so only after being kicked. After more than 10 months in solitary confinement (see October 9, 2002), Arar is let out of his grave-like cell. He is then transferred, first to the “Investigation Branch,” and then to Sednaya prison. “I was very lucky,” he says, “that I was not tortured when I arrived there. All the other prisoners were tortured when they arrived.” [CBC News, 11/26/2004]

Entity Tags: Maher Arar

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Abdullah Almalki.Abdullah Almalki. [Source: Tom Hanson / Canadian Press]A month after his transfer to the Sednaya prison in Syria (see August 19, 2003), Maher Arar meets another prisoner he recognizes as Abdullah Almalki, the man he was questioned about a year before (see September 26, 2002) in New York. “His head was shaved, and he was very, very thin and pale. He was very weak.” Almalki is in far worse shape than Arar. “He told me he had also been at the Palestine Branch, and that he had also been in a grave like I had been except he had been in it longer. He told me he had been severely tortured with the tire, and the cable. He was also hanged upside down. He was tortured much worse than me. He had also been tortured when he was brought to Sednaya, so that was only two weeks before.” [CBC News, 11/26/2004]

Entity Tags: Maher Arar, Abdullah Almalki

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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