Extraordinary assistance

The CBC is reporting today that U.S. flight logs show Canadian involvement in CIA extraordinary rendition flights:

Reprieve, based in London, said a chartered plane long suspected of transferring prisoners repeatedly stopped in Gander, central Newfoundland, on its way to Afghanistan from Guantanamo Bay in 2004.

In the United States, “extraordinary rendition” was used to apprehend and detain foreign nationals suspected of involvement in terrorism. The practice, as described by the ACLU:

The suspect would be arrested and secretly transferred to prisons run by foreign intelligence agencies in countries known to torture, or to CIA-run “black sites.” Once detained, these men experienced unspeakable horrors — often kept in squalid conditions, many of them faced interrogation under torture, including waterboarding, electrocutions, beatings, extreme isolation, and psychological torture.

Maher Arar is the most famous Canadian victim of the extraordinary rendition program. Based on faulty intelligence provided by the Canadian government, the United States arrested and detained him during a stopover at a New York airport, and delivered him to torture in Syria.

Maher Arar, like other extraordinary rendition victims, was forcibly disappeared via a private flight chartered by the CIA. And according to the evidence obtained by Reprieve, some of these rendition flights stopped in Canada before continuing on to CIA black sites in Lithuania. As reported by the CBC:

“The evidence suggests that Canada, by virtue of its location, was a very vital, logistical point for the extraordinary renditions program. That is evidence more and more clearly as time goes on,” said Crofton Black, who is with Reprieve.

Black said that’s verified by flight logs provided by the FAA, one of the 28 aviation authorities that received an access to information request from Reprieve.

This evidence of Canadian involvement in the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program is enormously important.

Torture and enforced disappearance are crimes under international law. And international law makes clear that states can be held responsible for aiding and assisting other states in their violations of international law, if they know that their aid and assistance is facilitating the misconduct. What that means here is if Canada was aware that the planes at issue were part of the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program (which were delivering individuals to enforced disappearance, torture or other ill-treatment), Canada should not have allowed its territory to be used to facilitate these flights.

There have long been concerns about Canadian complicity in facilitating rendition flights. In 2005, Amnesty International Canada wrote to then-Minister of Transport Jean Lapierre requesting information, following media reports that rendition flights were landing in Newfoundland. Receiving no response, Amnesty then followed up in January 2006 with then-Minister of Public Safety Anne McLellan. But as Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada, told the CBC today:

“We could not get a clear answer at all, including, whether or not Canada was specifically reviewing these flights with Canada’s specific human rights obligations in mind. We couldn’t even get confirmation about that.”

As Amnesty noted in 2006, the Canadian response to these concerns was distressingly subdued. Unfortunately, not much has changed in the intervening years. While the Council of Europe has conducted inquiries into alleged CIA activities in Europe, and a number of European states have investigated the role of their own government officials in assisting the CIA’s rendition program, no similar inquiries have taken place in Canada.

Canada needs to clarify what has happened here, or risk being itself accused of violations of international law. This is not an academic concern: in the face of continued American refusal to provide a proper accounting for the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program, groups such as the Open Society Justice Initiative have launched litigation against states thought to be complicit in the CIA’s activities.

The CIA’s extraordinary rendition program represents some of the worst excesses of the “global war on terror.” In light of this most recent report of potential complicity, Canadians need to know what role — if any — their government played in facilitating renditions.