What factor is common to Canada, Sweden and Denmark? The snow, perhaps? The cold weather? The social programs? Or maybe smoked salmon?
How about rendition to torture? And how about cooperation with the intelligence authorities of countries which practice torture with total impunity? These may be some of the darkest common factors shared by the three countries, ones that not everyone is aware of.
In Canada, the cases of Maher Arar, Abdullah Al-Malki, Ahmed el-Maati and Muayyed Nureddin happened between 2002 and 2004.
These cases became publicly known and sparked a huge outcry. Two inquiries were ordered into their cases. But even if Maher Arar was cleared from terrorism suspicions by Justice O’Connor and awarded compensation, the recommendations made by Justice Iacobucci regarding compensation for the other three men have never been followed by the government. Canadians found out from both inquiries that these four Canadians, all Arab-Muslim citizens, were detained in Syria, and tortured by Syrian officials in the same facility known as the Palestinian Branch of Syrian Military Intelligence. What’s even more troubling is that both Canadian judges found that Canadian intelligence officers shared information about their own citizens with Syrian officials and didn’t hesitate in using this information, knowing that it was coming from the dungeons of one of the worst prisons run by the Assad regime.
A tragic pattern
In Denmark, the scenario of this tragic pattern is not any different. In the Al Jazeera documentary Outsourcing Torture, we learn that in the mid 2000s, three Muslim-Danish citizens had a similar fate to the one met by their Canadian counterparts. The only difference is the country of torture: Lebanon.
Ali Ibrahim is a taxi driver of Lebanese descent who had been living in Denmark with his family. In 2006, he was approached by PET, the Danish intelligence service, to become an informant. He refused and PET threatened to make his life miserable.
Hassan Jabbar is a cleric who came as a refugee from Iraq and was living in Denmark for years. He was repeatedly interrogated by the intelligence service for his work with charities in the mosque. And finally, the documentary presents us with the case of Abu Abdullah, who kept his identity secret, as he is still worried about what PET officers could do to him.
The pattern is simple and diabolic: meet with an intelligence officer, refuse to become an informant, arrest takes place in a country with a poor human rights record, torture, interrogation, imprisonment without charge and eventual release.
The three men were arrested during a family visit to Lebanon. Ali Ibrahim was arrested in 2006. Four gunmen arrested him on the streets of Tripoli in front of his wife and children.
He was interrogated by Lebanese intelligence for a week and then released. Immediately after his release, he tried to leave the country to go back to Denmark but was prevented from doing so at the airport. He was arrested and then released a few times. Each time he was transferred from one prison to another and each time he was tortured. He even stayed in the infamous Roumieh prison in the Block B section known as the “Block of terror.” A UN report, released in 2014, documented the systematic use of torture in Roumieh prison.
All three men declared that they were interrogated and tortured by Lebanese officials and all of them were either explicitly told, or implicitly understood, that the Lebanese torturers were acting under the instructions of Danish intelligence officers.
Ali Ibrahim spent one year in solitary confinement and then two more years with other prisoners before he was able to go back to Denmark. He was suspected to have helped his brother, suspected of terrorist activities, by adding money to his phone card.
Hassan Jabbar was arrested in 2007 by Lebanese officials. In one of his interrogation sessions, the Lebanese interrogator told him “if you didn’t have a EU passport, we would have lynched you by now!” He was later released. No charges were laid against him.
Similarly, in 2010 Abu Abdullah was arrested in Beirut during a family visit. When he was leaving the country, he was stopped and transferred to a detention centre run by the Lebanese Ministry of Defence. He was held there for 21 days, interrogated and tortured by Lebanese officials. He couldn’t leave the country until he was cleared through Danish intelligence.
The pattern repeats
And how about Sweden?
The Swedish stories are as scary and troubling. Immediately after the events of 9/11, Swedish officials decided to deport two Egyptians citizens who came to Sweden as asylum seekers: Mohammed al-Zari and Ahmed Agiza were handed to CIA operatives operating in Sweden who transferred them to Egypt. Both men were suspected by the Swedish and American governments of terrorist activities.
The Swedish government obtained diplomatic assurances from Egyptian authorities that the men wouldn’t be tortured or subjected to the death penalty and would be given fair trial. This assurance is equivalent to the one you get from a hungry lion to not eat a live rabbit.
Indeed both men ended up in prisons where they were tortured. al-Zari was released after two years without charges. Agiza was sentenced to 15 years in prison by a military tribunal and released in 2011.
It is only in 2004 that these two cases became known to the Swedish public. Human Rights Watch closely followed the cases in Egypt and in Sweden, and in 2008 both men were awarded compensation by Swedish authorities for the damages they endured. Both men were granted permanent residence permits by Sweden.
If the Canadian and Swedish victims of rendition received some sort of recognition for the suffering they received through this barbaric treatment, the Danish victims remain looking for answers to their cases. No inquiries or legal actions have been initiated yet. After many years, the victims live in fear under the shadow of what happened to them.
The globalization that many of us feared in previous years for destroying our local economies, the specificities of our local culture and education systems is alive and well in the “national security” field. The cases mentioned in this article represent clear evidence that countries known internationally as leaders in human rights and champions against torture are being caught up in this new web of globalization that outsources everything from manufacturing clothing to torture.
This column was initially published at rabble.ca