Terror suspect (Harkat) attempts novel legal tactic

posted on September 16, 2004 | in Category Mohamed Harkat | PermaLink

Original author: Colin Freeze Source: The Globe and Mail online URL: [link] Date: September 16, 2004 Harkat requests 'friend of court' to dispute secret evidence against him

A terrorism suspect is asking that he be allowed a court-appointed representative who can get behind closed doors and dispute the secret evidence being levied against him. Mohamed Harkat, an Algerian refugee claimant, is asking for an amicus curiae, or friend of the court, so that he can stave off attempts to deport him. He is one of five immigrants currently being detained as a potential al-Qaeda sleeper agent. Ottawa is moving to deport them, and Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel, by using a rarely used and highly controversial process.In these cases, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service gathers intelligence against the immigrants. The full extent of the information is shown only to federal cabinet ministers, who have deemed the suspects security risks, and Federal Court judges, who ultimately decide whether they will be deported.

Defence lawyers have long decried the process as unfair -- as neither lawyer nor client gets to see the precise allegations or where they come from.

Yet courts have ruled that civil liberties can rightly take a back seat to the overriding national-security considerations. It is feared that fully disclosing intelligence could risk confidential sources, jeopardize ongoing cases, and perhaps even aid terrorist plots.

"This process is regarded as Charter appropriate -- I don't think it is," said Paul Copeland, the lawyer acting for Mr. Harkat.

In a hearing late this month Mr. Copeland will present a novel compromise. He has asked that the presiding judge appoint lawyer John B. Laskin an amicus curiae.

Mr. Laskin would swear not to divulge what takes place inside the secret hearing room. This would give Mr. Harkat at least some representation in a process he has been shut out of since he was arrested in 2001.

While much remains secret, a sketch of the evidence against the former pizza deliveryman is known. CSIS alleges that prior to his coming to Canada in 1995 he ran a mujahedeen training camp in Pakistan.

And, as is usual in these cases, Mr. Harkat is being judged on the company he is said to have kept. The most damning evidence is said to have come from a prominent U.S.-captured suspect named Abu Zubaydah, the Saudi-born Palestinian who controlled camps that were used to train thousands of militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

CSIS has also linked Mr. Harkat to Ahmed Said Khadr, an Egyptian-Canadian charity worker who befriended Osama bin Laden before being killed in the tribal regions of Pakistan last year.

Mr. Copeland said his client displays no signs of extremism and is no terrorist. "Either he's the best trained al-Qaeda sleeper in the world or he's being screwed by CSIS."

A report last year indicated that Maher Arar was forced into naming Mr. Harkat as an associate. This was said to have occurred as Mr. Arar spent nearly a year as a terrorism suspect in Syria before returning to Canada to wage a fierce campaign to clear his name. But Mr. Copeland says this is simply not true -- the two men never knew each other.

In asking for an amicus, however, Mr. Harkat is borrowing a page from the ongoing public commission into the detention of Mr. Arar, who has been granted a lawyer to fight against government secrecy in the closed hearings that are now taking place before public hearings resume in 2005.

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