November 2008: Dark Days

How four Canadians were tortured in the “fight on terror”
November 1, 2008

Dark Days: The Story of Four Canadians Tortured in the Name of Fighting Terror, by Kerry Pither, Viking Canada, 460 pages, hard cover, $35.00.

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Much has been written about four Muslim Canadians who were falsely accused of terrorist links and imprisoned, tortured, and ultimately released without any charges.

What is special about Dark Days, the Story of Four Canadians Tortured in the Name of Terror, is that author Kerry Pither spent a great deal of time interviewing all four about their ordeal. Thanks to those interviews, Dark Days offers vivid personal accounts of the tortures.

Ahmad El Maati was kept in solitary confinement in a tiny, filthy cell infested with huge cockroaches and rats, with a toilet that was essentially a hole in the ground. He slept on a concrete floor with only two thin, rough, filthy blankets.

The other three detainees–Abullah Almalki, Maher Arar, and Muayyad Nureddin--were locked in cells that were equally uncomfortable and filthy.

Ahmad was frequently blindfolded and whipped on his hands, lower back, knees, legs and feet with a thick, metal cable for hours at a time. Whenever his body became numb, his captives poured cold water over it to bring the feeling back. His shins were burned with lighted cigarettes. He was frequently punished while bent over with a tire around the back of his neck and the back of his knees. He was regularly handcuffed, blindfolded, kicked and beaten while being taken to and from his cell for torture.

The other three detainees were similarly tortured. All four were given only enough food to survive, and it was frequently rotten.

Abullah was held captive and tortured for one year and 10 months and seven days; Ahmad, the longest, for more than two years, two months and two days.

Arar was fully exonerated by a public Commission of Inquiry chaired by Justice Dennis O'Connor, and received a $10.5 million settlement from the Government of Canada, plus $1 million for legal costs.

The commission recommended a “thorough and independent” review of the cases of the other three victims--a review process “able to investigate the matter fully and, in the end, inspire public confidence in the outcome.”

Ahmad, Abullah, and Muayyad were disappointed that the commissioner had not recommended a second phase to his public inquiry.

Instead, in December 2006, the government established an internal inquiry. It was expected to be held in private “because it would deal with sensitive security matters.”

Justice O'Connor determined that American authorities “very likely” based their decision to send Maher to Syria on erroneous information they received from Canada, including information that described Maher Arar and his spouse, Monia Mahzig, as “Islamic extremists with suspected ties to al-Quadea.”

“There was clearly no justification for this description,” Justice O'Connor stated. “Moreover, it was highly inflammatory and, in the post-911 environment in the United States, had the potential to prove enormously prejudicial to them.”

He also found in Maher Arar's case that Canadian officials “selectively released classified information” to the media. He observed that several of the leaks “were inaccurate, unsupported by the information available from the investigations, and grossly unfair to Mr. Arar.” The leaks had “deleterious effects on Arar's reputation, psychological state, and ability to find employment.”

In Dark Days, author Kerry Pither reports that both the RCMP and CSIS—the Canadian Security Intelligence Service—provided U.S. authorities with information that was used in the interrogation of the four suspects in Syria.

Pither describes how the Anti-terrorism Act and the Canada-U.S. Smart Border Declaration and Action Plan gave authorities new powers to identify, shadow, and arrest terrorist suspects, as well as many of the extreme steps taken under those powers.

Dark Days includes a foreword by Maher in which he observes: “The reputations of the RCMP and CSIS, as well as Canada as a country, have been tarnished as a result of what happened in these cases.”

Ahmad became a suspect on August 6, 2001, when he was stopped at the U.S. border and a map of Tunney's Pasture, a federal government complex in Ottawa, was found in a truck he was driving. The buildings located on the map included Health Canada's virus laboratory and the Atomic Energy of Canada office.

In August 2005, a Globe and Mail reporter, Jeff Sallot, discovered that the map was no secret, but a handout given to visitors to help them find their way around the complex. Both the laboratory and the Atomic Energy of Canada office had moved from the site years before the map was found in the truck Ahmed was driving.

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Kerry Pither, a dedicated human rights activist, played a leading role in the campaign for Maher Arar's release from Syrian detention. For more on Kerry’s work visit her web site at