Sunday, September 12, 2010

Another Forgotten Victim of 9/11 Awaits Justice in Canada; Benamar Benatta Seeks Apology and Accountability for Canadian Government’s Role in his Ren


September 12, 2010 – It would be difficult to imagine that nine years ago today, anyone on the planet was unaware of the terrorist attacks that had occurred the previous morning in the United States. Yet one individual in Canada was not only unaware, he was also falsely tarred with responsibility for the attacks and illegally rendered to the U.S., where he would face five years of imprisonment under conditions that constituted torture.

Benamar Benatta, a former member of the Algerian air force who, for refusing to commit war crimes, had to flee for his life, came to Canada seeking asylum on September 5, 2001. Like many refugees, he was thrown into detention pending further investigation, and was in solitary confinement, cut off from the rest of the world, when the planes struck New York City and Washington, D.C.

Following a brief detention review on the morning of September 12th, during which Benatta had no access to legal counsel or a translator, he was remanded one further week in custody.

Later that day, two officials who Benatta believed to be Canadian asked him whether he knew how to fly airplanes and whether he had any counter-terrorism training.


What happened next is a nightmare beyond imagining. That evening, he was taken from his cell, placed in the back of a car, and driven across the Rainbow Bridge into the U.S., all without benefit of a hearing, access to a lawyer, or due process of any kind.

Surrounded by dozens of men with guns on the U.S. side, he was taken to an immigration detention facility and interrogated four days about alleged involvement in the 9/11 attacks. He was then bundled off to Brooklyn’s notorious Metropolitan Detention Centre, where he was thrown into a solitary confinement cell, the letters WTC (World Trade Center) plastered across his door, and treated as a prime suspect in the attacks.

With the light burning 24 hours a day in his solitary confinement cell, he was jarred awake every 30 minutes day and night with guards banging on his door. Once again denied access to a lawyer, he was only taken out of his cell for interrogation. In addition to humiliating strip searches, he experienced continual beatings, including having his head slammed against the wall, his leg shackles stomped upon, causing foot and ankle injuries, and other torturous treatment at the hands of guards. This was all later confirmed and well-documented in studies by the U.S. Department of Justice and the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which concluded that his treatment was tantamount to torture.

Conditions were so bad that Benatta and other detainees conducted hunger strikes, with Benatta going to the point where prison officials, fearing he might die, were on the verge of force feeding him.


In November, 2001, the FBI cleared Benatta of any suspicions of involvement in terrorism, but no one told him. Apart from some U.S. officials, no one knew where he was as he continued his indefinite punishment in solitary confinement. It would not be until he was transferred to a detention facility in Batavia, New York, in April, 2002, that he first saw a lawyer, but he would spend over four more years behind bars.

In 2003, Benatta was finally brought before a judge to face criminal charges that were dismissed as a “ruse” by the FBI and immigration authorities to justify his continued detention.

The judge found that “there is no doubt in this court’s mind that the defendant, because of the fact that he was an Algerian citizen and a member of the Algerian Air Force, was spirited off to the MDC in Brooklyn on September 16, 2001 and held in SH [special housing] as ‘high security’ for purposes of providing an expeditious means of having the defendant interrogated by special agents of the FBI….” The judge also found Benatta “undeniably was deprived of his liberty and held in custody under harsh conditions which can be said to be ‘oppressive.’”

But Benatta would not breathe the air outside of prison for another three years, when he was eventually released and returned to Canada to resume his refugee claim (since accepted). Benatta is also now a permanent resident in Canada.


Benatta says that “On the day I was released, I had nothing – no money, no belongings and no family or friends to turn to. When I arrived in Canada by prison escort, after being interviewed for hours by Canadian officials, I was allowed to leave with a U.S. lawyer who had come to help me. We headed to the local Wal-Mart, me still in my prison uniform, to find some new clothes. I will never forget the frightened little girl who ran from me, or the cashier who eyed me like I was a criminal. It is these little indignities that stick with me.”

Canada’s role in this nightmare is the focus of a lawsuit currently before the courts. As with other torture cases in which Canadian officials maintain a maddening policy of denial (largely from scandal-ridden spy agency CSIS and the equally complicit RCMP, along with the Department of “Justice” and Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade), Benatta is unable to get a concession that what happened to him was real, much less the responsibility of federal officials.

Yet in Benatta’s case, the Canadian government knows it is in the wrong. In January 2006, while Benatta was still behind bars in the U.S., a briefing note was prepared for the President of the Canadian Border Services Agency by Nicole Houle, Director General, Admissibility Branch, Peoples Programs Directorate. Houle wrote that the agency has “reviewed the file and determined that proper procedures may not have been followed and that Mr. Benatta may be entitled to have his [refugee] claim heard in Canada.”


The briefing note later states “the notes and documentation on file and the lack of clear supporting documentation for the actions taken [the illegal transfer to the U.S.] suggest that an oversight my have occurred in this case, which resulted in Mr. Benatta not being allowed to have his refugee claim heard in Canada.”

It is putting it kindly to refer to this action as an “oversight” when it was Canadian officials who took the proactive step of calling up the U.S. and informing them them of Benatta’s presence in Canada. Indeed, U.S. Magistrate Schroeder, hearing Benatta’s case in 2003, found as fact that “as a result of the horrific events of September 11, 2001, Canadian authorities alerted United States authorities of [Benatta’s] presence and profile as set forth and returned him to United States authorities on September 12, 2001.”

The CBSA briefing note further states that “there maybe [sic] at least a moral if not legal obligation to review Mr. Benatta’s file” and a need to explore “the legal ramifications or liability for the Agency in this case given Mr. Benatta’s long term detention in the U.S.”

Despite this acknowledgment of complicity in his rendition from four years ago, Benatta is still facing an uphill battle. Earlier this year, an Ontario Court ordered the federal government to disclose all documents related to the case when it was found that Ottawa had been withholding numerous files.

Such lawsuits tend to drag on for years, especially when the government stalls, stonewalls, and attempts to whitewash its complicity in clearly illegal activities. But still Benatta fights on, seeking an apology, accountability, and compensation for nine lost years.

A man who refuses to commit human rights abuses is someone we should celebrate and welcome. But in a world gone mad with hyped up Muslim-hatred and ruled by irrational fear (a poll released two days ago revealed half of Canadians feel Muslims do not share their “values”), Benatta still faces an uphill struggle.

Anyone who knows Benatta (as this writer does) comes to the early and easy conclusion that he is an individual of great integrity. He is also someone who clearly continues to suffer from the aftereffects of torture and the further humiliation of trying to deal rationally with a Canadian government that denies and deflects all questions of responsibility.


It is a stunning challenge, but one he can only meet with the support of people in this country who are willing to support him. Benatta survives in poverty, trying to finish a university degree so he can find work.

Individuals who wish to help out with financial support can do so through a special “Benatta fund” set up by Toronto Action for Social Change, which pays for such necessities as food, rent, and educational expenses.

If you wish to support Mr. Benatta, you can make out cheques to Toronto Action for Social Change (marked “Benatta” in the memo portion of your cheque) and mail them to PO 73620, 509 St. Clair Ave. West, Toronto, ON M6C 1C0. Tax receipts are available for donations over $75. For details on how to receive a tax receipt email us at

In the meantime, it never hurts to write to Stephen Harper (via the website and Public Safety Minister Vic Toews (, calling on them to accept responsibility, and not only offer an apology and compensation, but take the measures necessary to ensure this never happens again, and that those responsible are held truly accountable.

Further information is available at

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Attack of the Beards: A Reflection on the Hirsute Hysteria Dominating Canadian Media in Latest “Domestic terror” Allegations

Attack of the Beards: A Reflection on the Hirsute Hysteria Dominating Canadian Media in Latest “Domestic terror” Allegations

September 3, 2010 – Coverage of the alleged Ottawa “terror” plot seems more inspired by Fashion TV or The National Enquirer than the objective, professional standards one would hope undergird established Canadian news outlets. Giant helpings of Islamophobia mixed with repeated references to speculative allegations not even mentioned by police in their end-of-the-world-is-coming-to-Ottawa press conference have done nothing but contribute to an environment of fear and hysteria.

Almost every article describing the accused men refers to the way they and their loved ones look. The Toronto Star notes one man was “sporting a bushy beard [and] a knitted skull cap.” The Ottawa Citizen reports one young man had a “full, long beard,” and that his wife wore a niqab.

The Citizen also reports that, in one case, “[the accused] took an extended vacation more than a year ago and returned having grown a full beard. It wasn’t known where he spent the weeks he was away.” (This is not normally information one shares with an employer or even fellow employees, but here it is clearly painted as suspicious.)

We are also informed that the wife of one of the men “dressed modestly”. The same article also references the “full beard often worn by Muslim men of strong faith,” but that during one man’s court appearance, it was a “full but neatly trimmed beard.” Brownie points clearly go to this Muslim! Another article in the same paper (Citizen) references an individual “with a curly beard and a brown skull cap over his long curly brown hair, and [another defendant] sporting a full beard.”

Are we to take from this that Muslims apparently “sport” beards, as if they are part of the terrorist tool kit? And can you tell a good Muslim from a bad Muslim by the length and curliness of their facial hair? As the week goes on and another young man is arrested, he is referred to as a “slightly-built bearded man.”

What is next? Inquisitorial committees asking men of Muslim faith the $64,000 question: Do you now or have you ever sported a beard?

In addition, we see that normal, everyday activities also become suspicious when engaged in by men of Muslim faith.

The Star reported that a neighbour of one of the accused men said that the first time she saw him, “he was pacing his lawn with his hands behind his back.” Where is the editorial hand that asks this journalist how this in any way contributes to the story?

The Citizen reported that the neighbour of another of the accused men recalled that his girlfriend had seen “men in robes, with beards and a type of ‘cone’ hat, near the elevator. When she tried to enter the elevator, the men told her to take the stairs instead, he said.”

No explanation is offered for this alleged behaviour, and we only hear one side of the story after a few days of scare headlines may have influenced this recollection, but seriously, are men allegedly plotting mass destruction going to discuss this in a 20-second elevator ride?

But Muslims grouped in elevators are clearly something we need to be vigilant about. Indeed, as Ottawa Police Chief Vern White warned residents of the National capital region this past week, we must all be wary now.

“Threat of terror our new reality” screams the front page of the Ottawa Citizen, though the police chief reassures us that there is no reason for people to be living with fear, even though he promises we have to be concerned about terrorism “for at least a couple of decades to come.” White tells us to be “vigilant about the abnormal. It doesn’t hurt to make the call and let police decide what’s up.”

But how does one define abnormal? Is it the one who doesn’t sit religiously watching the Ottawa Senators on the tube or attend Red Friday support-the-troops rallies? Is it someone who questions Canada’s occupation of Afghanistan, and this nation’s role in the torture of Afghans?

In the meantime, the press at all levels continue to parrot the party line without serious questioning. The Ottawa Citizen’s September 2 lead story screams, “Report links Ottawa ring to Taliban.” Reporter Ian Macleod conclusively begins his story by informing us that “The Pakistani Taliban, which claimed responsibility for May’s failed Times Square bombing, is now implicated in the alleged jihadist scheme to bomb Ottawa.”

What sounds pretty convincing in the first paragraph becomes, in the second paragraph, “the possible connection” between the groups. So where is this report? It emerges from the Daily Times of Pakistan, which states there is an “intense investigation” underway to determine “whether” the Pakistani Taliban “had a hand in the supposed plan to attack sites here.” Further, the report is based on statements from “an unnamed western diplomat and two officials in the ministry of the interior.”

So how can the media scream such a conclusive headline based on an overseas newspaper’s attempts to establish a link based on the unsubstantiated speculation of nameless individuals whose credibility cannot be established and who can hide behind their anonymity to press any agenda they please? The answer is simple: at the far right of the column is the bearded man in an orange jumpsuit staring out at us. Guilt by alleged association is easy to get away with when a climate of fear is created and stereotypes rule the day.

That stereotype deepens with sinister overtones related to travelling overseas. Colin Freeze of the Globe and Mail opines on August 28 that “the latest circuitry discovered is disturbing. Sources [unnamed] say it could have set off many explosions…While the device was assembled in Canada, police say they were partly built out of know-how acquired from terrorists overseas.”

If these alleged plotters are so smart—engineers, computer scientists, medical professionals –why would they need to go overseas to learn how to assemble the kind of basic electronics anyone could figure out here at home?

Freeze then says: “Details of the plot remain fuzzy, but there is speculation that Parliament Hill was a target on the terrorist hit list.” Who is speculating? Mr. Freeze? An official source, perhaps one who would publicly take responsibility for such a claim? And why would anyone trust a source from the so-called “intelligence” community when its agencies have clearly been found by Canadian courts to have lied, withheld information that goes against their own theories, and used information gleaned from torture?

Such examples of sloppiness (or, if one were to look at this systematically, fear-based bias) are everywhere. Further fear is put out there with the front page Ottawa Citizen headline, “CSIS kept close eye on suspect who worked with radioactive isotopes.” Well, turn to page three and the headline reads “One accused worked near radioactive isotopes.” An even smaller headline reads “Ahmed had no access to isotopes – used in dirty bombs – hospital says.”

Are editors at the Citizen asleep at the wheel here? From working with isotopes to being near them and then having no access to them – but reminding us that if he DID have access, he could always make a dirty bomb – scares the heck out of people who have been trained to react to those key words, like “extremist,” “dirty bomb,” “Islamist,” “beards”…

If we look further into what it is that may have “inspired” one of the men to be involved in the alleged plot, we are informed by The Ottawa Citizen that two threads are available to national security agents. One: the individual traveled to Pakistan to help with earthquake relief. This not uncommon act of charity on the part of the individual was replicated by thousands, so does that make them all security risks?

Two: “he added his name to a letter that demanded the Canadian government offer better medical care to three men held in jail on security certificates. (The men were then on hunger strikes.).” The report neglects to mention that over 70 health care professional signed that letter, and thousands of Canadians wrote letters on behalf of the men who were trying to improve living conditions in the facility dubbed Guantanamo North. Those detainees were held under a secret process unanimously declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada. Are all of these individual letter writers and Supreme Court judges now suspect?

Meanwhile, the terrorism industry’s most trusted guardians, those who produce endlessly scare mongering “op-ed” pieces for our papers, cheerily joined in the fray with repeated warnings that Canada’s time will come.

One Kingston academic praises the arrests as “clear successes for the Canadian security community.” How can these be successes if the men have not even been tried, much less convicted? The Toronto Star editorializes on August 27, “Breaking up a terror plot,” without using the term alleged – have they made up their minds already?

The Globe and Mail’s editorial board seems to have made up their own minds too. While editorialists scream bloody murder about the allegedly disabling political correctness of not offending the Muslim community, and now take pains to say they are not trying to profile the community, they go ahead and do it anyway.

In an August 27 editorial, “The call of jihad rings far and wide,” the Globe expresses shock that one of the men alleged to be involved “accepted the Hippocratic oath.” The Globe did not mention that doctors complicit in torture at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, Bagram Air Force Base, and other sites of torture have also taken that oath.

The editorial then asks “how to protect against a threat that cannot be stereotyped or fought by profiling based on age, appearance, or education.” In a leap of illogic, they answer that question by relying on the very profiling they say they will not use, saying “it is vital that those who would kill their fellow Canadians…are not sheltered or ignored by anyone in the Muslim community.”

Aha, so there it is again: the false conclusion that the Muslim community “harbours” those engaged in terror.

The arrests of this past August are reminiscent of those that took place 7 years ago, when Canadian media faithfully repeated baseless allegations against almost two dozen young men falsely accused of links to al-Qaeda. The so-called RCMP Project Thread was a complete and unsubstantiated bust, but lives were ruined and fear spread as headlines in “liberal” papers such as the Toronto Star blared “"Terror suspect may be freed; But others held as security threats; Documents claim links to Al Qaeda".

Then as now, the same racist questions are raised, almost all of which ask whether Muslims are willing to “integrate” into Canadian or “Western” society. “He seemed so westernized,” says one friend of a suspect (Star, August 27), while others worry about the “ordinariness” of the suspects (they played hockey!!!!).

Most incendiary was the August 27 headline in the Ottawa Citizen, screaming out, above two pictures of bearded men: “Your friends and neighbours: The Face of homegrown terror.” What kind of message does this send to anyone who may wear a skull cap and sport a beard? Are they to be looked at with suspicion? Obviously. And now, the ordinariness argument is thrown in. Not only are we to fear and suspect people who look this way, we are doubly to fear them if they are doctors, engineers, or computer technicians who like to play ball hockey. The message is clear: if you are Muslim, you cannot be accepted in “Canadian” society. If you are a successful Muslim in a professional field, can we REALLY trust you?

Amidst all the hand-wringing and scare mongering, there have been the odd voices calling for reason and reflection. One of them, the Citizen’s Dan Gardner, reminded Canadians that while no one was killed by “terrorism” in 2006, 41 people were killed in bath tub accidents, 9 in canoe and kayaking incidents, six by hot tap water, 104 by choking to death, and 54 by falls from ladders. Gardner notes that perhaps it’s time we stepped back and examine the real threats to the health and safety of Canadians (heart disease, diabetes, etc.).

“Terrorism is nothing more than one item on a very long list of relatively modest threats we cope with in modern life,” he writes. “Perceptions to the contrary are not the product of evidence and reason, but of flawed media reporting, self-interested hype and unfortunate foibles in human psychology.”

His conclusion, ultimately, is that we need to “calm the hell down.”


(Report from the bearded Matthew Behrens of the Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada and Stop Canadian Involvement in Torture)

"A revolution is interesting insofar as it avoids like the plague the plague it promised to heal." Daniel Berrigan