My life is in Canadians' hands, says accused terroristposted on December 06, 2004 | in Category Mohamed Harkat | PermaLink
Ottawa's Mohamed Harkat says that being publicly branded a terrorist by Canada makes it impossible for him to safely return to Algeria. "Canada is the most trusted country in the world," he told the Citizen in an interview at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre, where he has been held for almost two years on the strength of a security certificate. The federal government is attempting to deport Mr. Harkat to Algeria based on the case built by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, which alleges he is an al-Qaeda operative.Mr. Harkat, who worked as a pizza delivery man and gas station attendant, repeated his insistence from jail that he has no ties to the terrorist network: "I am innocent. I say I was innocent when I was arrested. I will say I was innocent until I die."
Yet, he said, Canada's international status is such that Algerian officials will automatically assume he's a terrorist threat if he's deported. "Most people don't understand," he said. "Canadians, my life is in their hands."
Wearing a fluorescent orange jumpsuit, Mr. Harkat spoke from jail just before the second anniversary of his arrest. He was taken into custody Dec. 10, 2002, after police stormed the lobby of the Ottawa apartment building where he lived with his Ontario-born wife, Sophie.
Mr. Harkat, 36, can be deported to Algeria if a Federal Court judge concludes the security certificate issued against him by two cabinet ministers is reasonable. The hearing to determine that question will resume tomorrow before Federal Court Justice Eleanor Dawson.
Mr. Harkat remains hopeful that the court will overturn his security certificate and end his indefinite stay in jail.
"The other inmates, they know what they're facing with their charges, with their sentences. But that's not the case for me," he said. "For me, it's waiting two years and not knowing anything ... It's very hard to live in this place when I can't see the future. I can't say that some day it is going to end."
Under the law that authorizes security certificates, accused terrorists such as Mr. Harkat can be held indefinitely without formal charges. Manickavasagam Suresh, a Sri Lankan tied to a terrorist group in that country, has been held behind bars as a security threat to Canada for more than nine years while his case churns through the courts.
Mr. Harkat maintains that the security certificate process is deeply unfair since he has not been able to see details of the allegations made against him. The process, which is designed to protect the identify of the spy agency's sources and the methods it uses to collect information, has also left Mr. Harkat unable to question in court those who have tied him to terrorism.
He wants his case thrown open to public scrutiny.
"The government don't give nothing for me, nothing for the public," he said. "Let's throw out all the facts and let the people decide if I'm innocent or guilty."
Mr. Harkat said he chose to testify earlier this year in his own defence in Federal Court because he wanted to leave "no stone unturned" to prove himself innocent. He will continue that pursuit, he said, even if the security certificate against him is quashed: "If I make it out, I want to clear my name. If there is any cloud, I want to clear it."
Mr. Harkat said his two years in prison have been difficult as he's constantly questioned his misfortune.
"It's like cancer eating you from inside," he said. "Why am I in jail for no reason? Always I ask the question, 'Why?' And I get no answer."
Mr. Harkat was accepted as a refugee in Canada after arriving here from Pakistan in 1995. He has told Federal Court that he worked in northern Pakistan as a warehouse manager for the Muslim World League after fleeing political persecution in Algeria in 1990.
CSIS alleges that Mr. Harkat travelled to Afghanistan in that time and developed an association with Abu Zubayda, one of Osama bin Laden's top lieutenants. Mr. Zubayda was arrested in March 2002 in Pakistan and later handed over to U.S. officials, who reportedly tortured him to gain his co-operation.
CSIS claims Mr. Zubayda identified Mr. Harkat "by description and activity" as operating a guest house in Pakistan for jihadis travelling to Chechnya.
Mr. Harkat has testified that he has never been to Afghanistan, has never met Mr. Zubayda and has nothing to do with al-Qaeda.
If Judge Dawson upholds the security certificate against him, the government will then assess the risk Mr. Harkat faces if deported to Algeria. If other security certificate cases are any guide, the government will pursue his deportation regardless of whether he faces a substantial risk of torture or not.
Mr. Harkat says if he cannot go free, he would sooner stay in jail for the rest of his life than return to Algeria where, he believes, he would face torture or death.
"There is no choice for me," he says.
© The Ottawa Citizen 2004