Terror suspect's lawyer says CSIS work 'sometimes shoddy'

posted on October 27, 2004 | in Category CSIS | PermaLink

Original author: Andrew Duffy Source: The Ottawa Citizen URL: N/A Date: October 26, 2004 'Significant incompetence' has flawed security agency's record in past The lawyer for accused terrorist Mohamed Harkat attacked the competence and judgment of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service on the first day of what he called the "Kafkaesque" trial of his client. "The quality of their work is sometimes unbelievably shoddy," Paul Copeland charged yesterday outside a Federal Court hearing. "From my viewing of CSIS over the 20 years it has existed, it shows, at times, some significant incompetence."In court, Mr. Copeland cited the security agency's role in the Air India case, in which it destroyed important evidence; its role in the Ahmed Ressam affair, in which it lost track of the al-Qaeda member upon his return to Canada with a false passport; and its role in the notorious Sidewinder investigation, which has been criticized by the Security Intelligence Review Committee as producing a "deeply flawed" initial report on the supposed co-operation between China's spy agency and Canadian triads to influence political activities in this country.

Arguing that Mr. Harkat may have been subject to the same variety of ineptness, he urged Federal Court Justice Eleanor Dawson to review the work of CSIS with a critical eye.

"What I regard this process as doing, to a large extent, is making her as paranoid and distrustful of CSIS as I am," Mr. Copeland explained outside court. "If she approaches it with a mindset that this is a fine agency, they're all wonderful people and they never screw up, then we're in a difficult position."

Mr. Copeland told court yesterday that he has to examine CSIS' overall record because he cannot cross-examine any of the individual agents who built the case against Mr. Harkat.

Justice Department lawyers have said they will not put any CSIS agents on the witness stand -- or anyone else for that matter -- during the public portion of the Federal Court hearing. They contend that all findings of fact against the Ottawa man have been "the collective result of a corporate process."

The move has frustrated Mr. Copeland's ability to probe the expertise, training and competence of the agents who have accused Mr. Harkat of being part of the al-Qaeda terrorist network.

Based on the case built by CSIS, two federal ministers signed a security certificate against Mr. Harkat in December 2002, declaring him a terrorist and a danger to the country.

Mr. Harkat denies being a member of al-Qaeda.

Judge Dawson must now decide if the CSIS case against Mr. Harkat is reasonable. Mr. Harkat, a 36-year-old pizza delivery man and gas station attendant in Ottawa, can be swiftly deported to his native Algeria if the judge upholds the security certificate.

Mr. Harkat entered yesterday's Federal Court hearing dressed in a long-sleeved, olive-coloured shirt and grey pants; he was flanked by two black-clad RCMP guards.

He has been in custody since being arrested Dec. 10, 2002, at his Ottawa apartment building where he lived with his wife, Sophie, who sat behind him in court yesterday.

Ms. Harkat said her husband remains in good spirits and is anxiously awaiting his chance to testify later this week.

"He's been ready for 22 months (to testify)," said Ms. Harkat, who has quit her job to devote herself full time to defending the rights of her husband and those of four other men detained on security certificates. "He says, 'I can't wait to tell my story; I can't wait to tell the truth.' "

Mr. Harkat will be testifying in a hearing that does not share the same rules of evidence disclosure and witness cross-examination that govern criminal trials.

In this case, Mr. Harkat has only a general understanding of the charges he faces and will have no ability to cross-examine the people who are alleging he is an al-Qaeda member.

Mr. Copeland told the court the process is "a little like living in Wonderland; for us, it is a Kafkaesque experience."

He then read the first line of Franz Kafka's novel, The Trial: "Somebody must have been slandering Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning."

"Based on what our client has told us," said Mr. Copeland, "and based on our personal impressions of him, and based on what little we know about his case, we believe someone must have slandered him."

That slander, Mr. Copeland charged, may have come from overseas intelligence agencies that used torture to gain information, or from local informants pressured or paid to co-operate with CSIS.

CSIS alleges Mr. Harkat travelled to Afghanistan in the early 1990s and developed an association with Abu Zubaydah, one of Osama bin Laden's top lieutenants. Mr. Zubaydah was arrested in a 2002 raid in Faisalabad, Pakistan, during which he suffered gunshots to the leg and groin. He was subsequently handed over to U.S. officials.

The Washington Post and New York Times have reported that his Central Intelligence Agency interrogators selectively denied him painkillers to gain his co-operation.

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

Mr. Harkat insists he has never met Mr. Zubaydah and has never been to Afghanistan.

The hearing continues today.

(c) The Ottawa Citizen 2004