Information on Harkat not 'credible'

posted on October 24, 2004 | in Category Mohamed Harkat | PermaLink

Original author: Andrew Duffy Source: The Ottawa Citizen online URL: [link] Date: October 23, 2004 Al-Qaeda suspect was tortured to build case, lawyer to argue

The lawyer for Ottawa's Mohamed Harkat will attempt to establish in Federal Court that an al-Qaeda lieutenant was tortured into giving evidence against his client, who is accused of being part of the terrorist network. Abu Zubaydah, an al-Qaeda operational planner in U.S. custody since March 2002, has been a key source of information for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service in building a case against Mr. Harkat. Mr. Harkat, 35, faces deportation to his native Algeria if a Federal Court judge accepts that the security service's case against him is "reasonable." His lawyer, Paul Copeland, wants CSIS to acknowledge that the information they received from Mr. Zubaydah came as the result of his being denied medical treatment for gunshot wounds. Mr. Zubaydah was handed over to U.S. officials after being arrested in a violent raid on a guest house in Faisalabad, Pakistan during which he was shot in the groin and thigh. Both the Washington Post and New York Times have reported that Central Intelligence Agency interrogators selectively denied him painkillers as a means of gaining his co-operation.Mr. Copeland will contend in a Federal Court hearing next week that whatever evidence he has provided against Mr. Harkat should be discounted as a result.

"What he then says may or may not be true -- we have no way of knowing," Mr. Copeland said in an interview. "But I think it puts it on a higher level that it's untrue. It makes it, I think, less credible."

Mr. Copeland has filed with the Federal Court a recent report by the U.S.-based group, Human Rights Watch, that denounces the treatment of Mr. Zubaydah and 10 other so-called "ghost detainees" being held by the U.S. in undisclosed locations without access to their families, lawyers or the International Red Cross.

In most cases, Mr. Copeland said, criminal defendants have the chance to cross-examine their accusers to test the veracity of their statements. But in Mr. Harkat's case, that's impossible since Mr. Zubaydah's whereabouts are unknown.

"I wonder how he described (Mr. Harkat)," said Mr. Copeland, "what the circumstances were, whether it was a real description, whether he was being tortured."

Next week's hearing will be Mr. Harkat's first chance to officially answer the terrorist allegations levelled against him in December 2002.

Those allegations, as presented by CSIS, prompted two federal cabinet ministers to sign a security certificate that says Mr. Harkat should be deported as a national security threat.

Justice Eleanor Dawson must decide if that decision was a reasonable one.

In a summary of the evidence it presented to the ministers, CSIS alleges Mr. Harkat travelled to Afghanistan in the early 1990s and developed an association with Mr. Zubaydah, who was once third on the U.S. list of wanted al-Qaeda suspects behind Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri.

CSIS claims Mr. Zubaydah has identified Mr. Harkat "by description and activity" as operating a guest house in Peshawar, Pakistan, for mujahedeen travelling to Chechnya.

Mr. Harkat insists he has never been to Afghanistan, has never met Mr. Zubaydah and that he has nothing to do with al-Qaeda.

Mr. Zubaydah's importance to the case has been underlined by the fact that Justice Dawson recently indicated she will not be relying upon any information about Mr. Harkat that may have been provided by Ahmed Ressam, Maher Arar or Mohamed Odeh.

Mr. Ressam, a former Montreal resident, has been convicted in the U.S. on terrorism-related charges for his role in a plot to bomb the Los Angeles International Airport.

Mr. Ressam was captured on Dec. 14, 1999 by a customs agent as he attempted to cross into the U.S. with high explosives, bomb fuel and four timing devices in the trunk of his car.

Mr. Odeh, a Jordanian, is also in U.S. custody after being convicted in the bombing of the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, Kenya in August 1998.

Mr. Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian citizen, was detained by U.S. officials during a stopover in New York City and deported. He ended up imprisoned in Syria for 10 months, during which time he says he was beaten and tortured. A CTV news report, cited by Mr. Copeland in a court filing, suggested Mr. Arar may have provided information to Syrian officials about Mr. Harkat during his detention.

Mr. Harkat has been in Ottawa since he settled here in 1995.

He has worked as a pizza delivery man and gas station attendant while marrying a Quebec woman, Sophie, who has described her husband as a kind, soft-spoken man with a gambling problem.

© The Ottawa Citizen 2004