"All I Know is My Four Walls"
July 27, 2004, Toronto -- It's the dog days of summer. Hassan Almrei is in day 35 of his hunger strike, demanding one hour of daily exercise outside of his solitary confinement cell. Mohammad Mahjoub, also in solitary confinement, is in day 20 of a hunger strike protesting his treatment at the Metro West Detention Centre. Mahmoud Jaballah, also at Metro West, will have a hearing in mid-August to determine whether he can apply for bail after four years of detention without charge.
If these Muslim men had the fortune of being born cats or hamsters, their treatment would be cause for massive protests across the country. But they are human beings whose religion has been so demonized in the "popular" press that their fate is of concern to very few.
Last week, Almrei spent three days in a Federal courtroom seeking release on bail after almost four years in solitary confinement. While he sits on the hard wooden bench in the detainee's box, the world outside is full of scare stories following the bombings in London.
Outside of these hearings, though, the level of Canadian paranoia is not high. Canada remains a nation of people who are not going out to buy duct tape in large quantities, despite the constant Call to Fear from Urgency Scaredness (aka Emergency Preparedness) Minister Anne McLellan.
Indeed, there are no mass rallies demanding that CSIS pick up the "three figure" terrorists said to be lurking in the shadows (CSIS claims there are between 100 and 999 potential terrorists in Canada). This may be due in part to a natural cynicism on the part of Canadians who hopefully know better than to give in to the 1950s-style Red Scare hysteria, and who recently named hunger as a top concern in a nationwide poll, placing the vague concept of national security far below.
During the week of Hassan's bail hearing, we learned that there were far greater threats to Canadian security than a man against whom the Canadian government admits there is not enough evidence to lay a single, solitary criminal charge.
Indeed, Canada is sending hundreds of troops to Afghanistan, despite the public acknowledgment that this could result in some sort of violent blowback on Canadian soil. The funds being used to send these men and continue our illegal occupation there are part of the massive growth of Canadian military funding, which will peak out at $20 billion annually within the next couple of years.
So while Canada continues to operate a war economy, funds for things that really affect people are slashed. This week we learn that the Canadian Network for Vaccines and Immunotherapeutics, working on clinical trials of vaccines for such things as AIDS and SARS, has had its federal funding pulled.
And while the war economy churns onward, the Ontario Medical Association releases a report that predicts 5,800 people in this province are dying each year due to poisons in the air, or smog. But we have no money for environmentally-sound policies because we are choosing to murder people abroad rather than save them at home.
And while Canada will trumpet its alleged non-proliferation glory with the 60th anniversary of the U.S. terrorist bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it continues to not only remain a world-leading uranium exporter for use in nuclear weapons, but is also exporting uranium to China, where a leading general recently said his country would consider using nuclear weapons.
And while the Toronto Star writes that 500,000 people a year are killed by so-called small arms, Canada continues to fund Diemaco, a Kitchener-based "centre of excellence" for small arms that spew 700 rounds a minute.
But CSIS, the Canadian government, and most of the press are not interested in exploring what really threatens our national security. Like any bureaucrats, they take the path of least resistance, the easiest steps to meeting their mandate. If you cannot ferret out threats to national security, just make them up, because when the process is veiled in secrecy, the so-called standard of proof is the lowest in any Canadian court, and there is no public accountability to the process, no one will be the wiser!
Indeed, in a number of security certificate cases, men are clearly detained because they refused to spy on their community for CSIS. In the Jaballah case, CSIS officers were taped threatening as much.
But to justify that $20 billion in war spending, to justify the $8 billion-plus spent on "securing our borders", we must be encouraged, as folks were following the Second World War, to be scared all the time. Anne McLellan tells us is we should never nap on the subway, much less read a book. We should keep our eyes open at all times, be ever vigilant, because she knows there are people in this country "who either alone or with others might choose to do harm of some kind."
Although she does not say it, the subtext is clear: Islamic extremists, Muslim terrorists, "second-generation" immigrants.
And yet there IS a killer on the loose, provided for with our tax dollars. It's Canada's new military head, General Hillier, who proudly declares: "We are the Canadian Forces and our job is to be able to kill people."
So if CSIS comes knocking at your door, give them the address of the War Department in Ottawa. That's where CSIS agents will find the addresses of all the "national defence" training camps where young men and women in this country are put through the ropes, trained to use weapons, indoctrinated in a certain ideology, drilled with a life-long discipline, and sent overseas where they win sniper awards for the best killing shot (as Canadian Forces won in Afghanistan).
All this is by way of context for last week in Toronto, the mosaic in which the hearing for bail took place.
RELENTLESS SENSE OF DEJA VU
The bail hearing was a frustrating exercise, both for its sense of deja vu and for the racism which runs rampant through these hearings. Canadian society views itself as polite, tolerant, and multicultural, so while we are not allowed in public to refer to Arabs and Muslims as "towelheads" or "sand niggers" (though a number of Canadian troops were quoted using such language in the 1991 Gulf War), we instead have found a new way of saying the exact same thing, of dehumanizing an entire people and culture. We suspect that they are "extremists," "terrorists," who hold a sick ideology which stays with them for their whole lives.
In such hearings, CSIS portrays itself as a helpless lamb in a hurricane of terror. Men like Hassan are portrayed as Super Muslim, men so dangerous that even the great CSIS, with its billions in extra funding post 9/11, has absolutely no way of controlling or monitoring them if they are released on bail (although the two men currently on bail after having been secret trial detainees have been nothing if not model examples of following bail conditions, even draconian ones).
All this is a huge weight bearing down on the frail looking man in the prisoner's box in Courtroom 7-1. He will wince in pain throughout the hearing from lack of food, but part of the wincing appears to be a weariness at the ongoing, daily abuse of the terror language. It is racist, it is Islamophobic, it is violence.
JP AT THE BAT: CSIS STILL SENDS THE WRONG GUY
The Monday afternoon hearing begins with a depressingly familiar announcement from Justice Leydon-Stephenson, who informs us that she held two days of in camera (i.e., secret) hearings with neither Hassan nor his lawyers present. Lawyer Barb Jackman had submitted a list of questions that she wanted the judge to ask of whatever witnesses were present at the secret hearing. The judge had decided to CC those questions to the government lawyers who would be present, but Jackman had objected, stating that witnesses should not have advance notice of questions, just as they would not in open court. The judge says she did not cc those questions in the end--not out of any sense that this would be the wrong thing to do--but because she had not heard back from Jackman on some questions the judge had raised about process.
Toby Hoffman, the CSIS counsel, calls JP, an "intelligence" officer who works both as an analyst and field investigator. He is the Chief of Counter-Terrorism and Counter-Proliferation for the Ottawa Region, and sports a degree in history and political science from Carleton University. He has taken numerous courses, some of which he can speak to, some of which he cannot, including a Middle East seminar in 1992 that was organized "in-house" at CSIS. He has also received training at the hands of the Egyptian authorities, in Egypt. Hoffman does not ask whether JP has concerns about receiving "training" at the hands of a government implicated in horrific acts of torture.
One feels a kind of pity for JP, not only because he lacks the basics of world geography (which for an intelligence agent you would think is a prerequisite) but because he keeps getting sent out to these cases even though he doesn't know much about them. Like a student cramming before finals, he goes over the file the Friday before.
JP waxes on the fate of Al-Qaeda post 9/11/2001, noting the organization has been significantly disrupted and that the network of Afghani training camps has been "wiped out." "Most of the old guard have been killed or detained," he says, which makes one wonder who, exactly, Canadian soldiers will be killing when they hit the sand in Kandahar.
JP, like a broken record, repeats testimony he has given at other public portions of the secret hearings, warning us that he believes the threat is very real that Al-Qaeda will attack Canada. It is part of the general hysteria of the past few weeks, between the London bombings and the emergency management conference hosted by Toronto and Anne McLellan's remarks that Canadians need to be "psychologically prepared" for a terrorist attack.
The papers are full of "potential targets," perhaps not realizing the irony that if there actually were anyone out there who wanted to hit Toronto, all they had to do was pick up the Toronto Sun and read the pages which say "Top 10 terrorist targets," complete with addresses and pictures. After a while, this becomes a bizarre self-perpetuating act of prophecy--if the terrorists out there, somewhere, do not strike, then CSIS has to keep finding innocents like Almrei and similar bogeyman threats; if they do occur, there is almost a giddy sense of relief, so that the terror experts can say "see, we told you so," and all those bleeding hearts crying about civil liberties were wrong (witness the giddy response of "terror experts" following the London bombings--they were back in business after a dry spell).
The hyperbole is not lost on JP. Although he has never met nor interviewed Hassan, and is just as unfamiliar with Almrei's case as he was when he testified in 2003, JP nonetheless casts cynical aspersions on the Syrian refugee's name. Hassan, a failed businessman trying to make a buck, made one mistake which has haunted him ever since: he made a call at the urging of his translator to get an acquaintance a false passport. From this one stupid act which Hassan admits was criminal and wrong (but for which no charges were ever laid), Hassan is suddenly a man, in CSIS's eyes, with a "pedigree", an individual who is part of an international network of forgers who "has a reputation he can trade on."
JP fails to realize that the reputation Hassan had in the community was of a nice guy who didn't handle money well, which is why his pita business went down the drain.
Hassan has admitted more than once that he attended a couple of "training" camps in Afghanistan, where his role was largely limited to leading prayers as a teenager (he first went to Afghanistan at the tender age of 16 and a half). JP acknowledges that not everyone who went to Afghanistan to resist the Soviet occupation went on to become terrorists, and is asked whether he thinks Hassan would join such an organization.
"I can't speak to his state of mind," JP tellingly replies, yet all of the CSIS allegations are based on an assumption about the state of mind of a man with whom they have never spoken (save for a pathetic 10-minute "interview" they held with him at his lawyer's office in 2001.)
JP is asked if he knows of any incidents in which Canadian passports have been used by terrorists. JP replies, "None that I can speak of."
JP claims Hassan has had a "lengthy separation from his network" and could re-contact people, even after four years in solitary confinement.
"We believe it is entirely possible he would resume his activities," JP states firmly, not realizing that in his one statement he has a speculative belief about a non-existent past reappearing in the future.
One of the spectators, who has posted bond for Hassan, leans forward, concerned at the tone of the testimony, and wonders aloud when JP will refer to Arab Muslims as "those people."
Her timing is amazing. "You can't talk to these people," JP states about those alleged to be connected to terror.
THE OBJECTION BANDWAGON
JP is cross examined by John Norris, whose skill as a lawyer is objected to on numerous occasions by government lawyer Donald MacIntosh. It is common ground for Macintosh who, when he sees a good lawyer on the other side of the table, warns the court that they are dealing with a good lawyer, as if there is something tricky, deceptive, wrong, in having good counsel defending a secret trial detainee.
Norris asks JP if he is familiar with Hassan's case, and whether he had any role in the preparation of the public summary of vague allegations against him.
"Objection," jumps up MacIntosh, stating to answer such a question would go to methodology and would affect national security.
(It appears throughout all these hearings that ANYTHING CSIS does is protected by the methodology defence. One can imagine the question: do those individuals involved in the preparation of the document use the bathroom if they have to or do they possess emergency pee jars? Objection, methodology.)
One piece of information which has affected Hassan is the fact that he once had a small honey stand in Saudi Arabia, for which he imported honey on a number of occasions. It is the subject of an interesting exchange between Norris and JP.
This thing about honey was disclosed by Hassan, Norris notes, and then asks whether CSIS has any information to confirm that Hassan was involved with honey.
"I don't know that personally," JP says.
"Do you have reason to doubt he was involved?"
"I can't comment without getting into classified information."
Almrei was essentially a one-man outfit like thousands of other honey sellers. Norris asks if CSIS is aware of any financial records of his business.
"Not familiar" with that, says JP.
"Do you have evidence that Mr. Almrei ever concealed weapons in honey?"
This line of questioning appears because of one of the many pieces of hearsay, gossip, and right-wing newspaper articles that CSIS produces to build its case against the secret trial detainees.
Here is how it works. Before Hassan was arrested, CSIS did not have a clue about Hassan's past. In the fall of 2002, Hassan produced a solemn declaration laying out his whole life on paper, discussing the various things he had done while overseas and the path to coming to Canada as a refugee. In this document was a whole mess of material that CSIS knew absolutely nothing about. What they did with it was typical CSIS methodology (but don't tell anyone for reasons of national security).
Essentially, they ran every phrase of Hassan's declaration through the google search engine to see what they could come up with, and used that "information" against Hassan as he applied for bail and sought to stop his deportation to torture.
So when CSIS ran "Saudi Arabia" and "honey" and perhaps even "Al-Qaeda" into the search engine, they came up with a bizarre article that appeared in the New York Times, which alleged that the honey business fronted money for al-Qaeda. No proof was provided other than unnamed sources in the U.S. administration.
To illustrate that this honey malfeasance was a major scandal and that CSIS had done its homework, CSIS also produced a BBC web report which essentially repeated the Times story, but since it was from the BBC, they claimed they now had TWO sources of credible information (had the CBC picked up the BBC version of the Times story, they would claim that there were THREE credible sources of information, even though they all repeated the same unfounded allegations in the original source).
And so it is that your national security is protected.
The article in question, "Al Qaeda -- Trade in Honey is Said to Provide Money and Cover for bin Laden," appeared in the Times in October, 2001, and was composed by the much discredited Judith Miller, who willingly reported false information about alleged weapons of mass destruction in Iraq as part of the build-up to the US invasion of Iraq, among her other crimes against journalism.
The story relies heavily on unnamed administration sources, something which Miller is infamous for in doing other stories that essentially act like White House or Pentagon press releases.
Norris asks if JP is aware that Miller's record of accuracy has been called into question, and points out that the article says a list of honey business was supposed to released.
"I am aware of an evolving list of proscribed entities, but have no direct knowledge of it," JP says.
"You have no knowledge that Hassan's honey shop is on this list?"
"No, I do not."
Although Norris does not ask the question, spectators are wondering if Winnie the Pooh, a great lover of honey himself, has anything to do with bin Laden. But again, that may compromise sources and get into the area of national security!
Norris submits some articles from The Nation which describe Miller's questionable ethics, as well as one which documents her personal mission to promote the idea that Islam is a threatening religion. Indeed, as the late Edward Said wrote in The Nation as far back as 1996,
"Judith Miller is a New York Times reporter much in evidence on talk shows and seminars on the Middle East. She trades in 'the Islamic threat' -- her particular mission has been to advance the millennial thesis that militant Islam is a danger to the West. The search for a post-Soviet foreign devil has come to rest, as it did beginning in the eighth century for European Christendom, on Islam, a religion whose physical proximity and unstilled challenge to the West seem as diabolical and violent now as they did then. Never mind that most Islamic countries today are too poverty-stricken, tyrannical and hopelessly inept militarily as well as scientifically to be much of a threat to anyone except their own citizens; and never mind that the most powerful of them -- like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Pakistan -- are totally within the U.S. orbit. What matters to 'experts' like Miller, Samuel Huntington, Martin Kramer, Bernard Lewis, Daniel Pipes, Steven Emerson and Barry Rubin, plus a whole battery of Israeli academics, is to make sure that the 'threat' is kept before our eyes, the better to excoriate Islam for terror, despotism and violence, while assuring themselves profitable consultancies, frequent TV appearances and book contracts. The Islamic threat is made to seem disproportionately fearsome, lending support to the thesis (which is an interesting parallel to anti-Semitic paranoia) that there is a worldwide conspiracy behind every explosion."
The Nation itself, the oldest liberal magazine in the U.S. (started after the Civil War by abolitionists) becomes a point of contention. MacIntosh expresses his concern that an article from this magazine is "rather polemical." Norris notes that The Nation is a highly respected journal whose prior writers include Martin Luther King and James Baldwin.
Norris proceeds to shred the latest list of CSIS concerns about Almrei. One of them relates to Ibn Khattab, a mujahedin fighter who was killed by the Russians in 2002. Hassan had met Khattab fleetingly and travelled with a group headed by Khattab to Tajikistan.
A CSIS summary of allegations dated July 14, 2005, states "ALMREI is aware of the background and current activities of Khattab." The sentence stands out in a manner that begs for eerie theme music.
Given that JP has already confirmed the death three years ago of Khattab, Norris asks, "Isn't it fair to say that everyone in this room his aware of his (Khattab's) current activities?" drawing a roar of laughter from the gallery.
The CSIS document also alleges, in its warnings about the alleged danger Hassan poses, that Almrei "visits internet web sites relating to the ongoing conflict in Chechnya."
Needless to say, Hassan has not seen a computer in four years, and even if he did, surfing the web for info on news from Chechnya is hardly a crime. But Arab Muslims do not have the same right to do things everyone else does, because their every move must be treated as suspicious.
JP says Hassan could connect with Chechnya extremists, start a cell of his own, maybe associate with an "extremist mosque," or even get together with one of the members of the Khadr family, all of whom freely walk the streets of Canada.
But this is so far into the realm of speculation that it is useless to state in the first place.
"You have no evidence that he is so inclined (to do any of those things)?" Norris asks JP.
"No, I do not," he says, but the damage is already done as eager reporters scribble down words like cell, Khadr and extremist, all of which continue to add to the cloud of suspicion that is meant to hang over Hassan's head.
Norris asks if connecting with Chechans would be contingent on reaching the region.
"Yes, he would have to access the region," JP replies.
"Do you know if Mr. Almrei knows recruiters for Chechnya?" Norris asks.
"He has experience dealing with illicit networks which serve as a portal to the Chechan extremist mosques or clerics. He would research it," says the man who earlier said he did not know Hassan's state of mind.
"If he has the will to regain those contacts I think he'd be welcome into the ranks," JP says confidently. "Everybody starts from somewhere." he says, calling forth his best Horatio Alger theory of junior terrorists rising through the ranks from the mail room to the Afghani command cave.
But what if Hassan were released, Norris asks. Wouldn't CSIS be monitoring Hassan?
"I can't comment in the area of capability," JP responds, again refusing an answer via the cover of national security.
John asks whether a tracking bracelet or a condition preventing Hassan from using computers would be helpful in getting Hassan released.
"I won't ask you if you have visited Chechan websites because that would be revealing methodologies," Norris smiles.
Later in his testimony JP reveals his profound ignorance of world geography when he says he believes that Tajikistan borders Chechnya and it is possible Hassan would have visited Chechnya through Tajikistan. "Tajikistan I believe is a bordering nation," says the "expert" on counter-terrorism.
As for the threat of Chechan extremism, Norris pulls out a quote from CSIS's own book of newspaper articles, dated January 18, 2005, which notes the number of "extremists" in the country has gone from 200 in 2000 to 10 today, and the number of insurgents has fallen from 3,000 to 200 last summer and 60 this winter.
Is there any evidence Hassan knows any of the 10 people left in Chechnya?
JP does not know who the 10 are or if Hassan knows them.
As the questioning continues, it becomes increasingly clear that CSIS relies for most of its allegations on Hassan's statutory declaration. On the one hand, they say he is not credible, but on the other, they build their case based on what Hassan has willingly shared. They are selective in what they want to believe about him.
That's one of the inherent problems of the secret process. If you do not know what CSIS has against you -- if anything -- you have to completely open your life to the court and to CSIS. This allows CSIS to dig up a scandalously theoretical case based on what you have shared, even if what you have shared is in no way incriminating. CSIS's job is to make it incriminating, whether it is being involved in the sale of honey or using a false passport to come to Canada (which most refugees use).
(Indeed, a former CSIS agent testified in the hearing for Mohamed Harkat that even if CSIS has one allegedly incriminating piece of information which is contradicted by 10,000 other pieces of information, they'll stick with the one piece of information.)
Norris asks whether JP is aware of the fate of Nabil Al-Marabh. Nabil, the man Hassan assisted in getting a false passport, was arrested after 9/11/2001 in the U.S., and tarred with terror allegations. But that is where the CSIS allegations about Nabil end. They neglect to inform the public that all terror-related allegations were dismissed against Nabil, and he was deported to Syria on a minor immigration violation. He is currently detained in Syria, his whereabouts unknown.
Norris wonders whether JP or CSIS has made inquiries about the fate of Nabil in Syria.
"When I was in headquarters, " JP cautiously begins, but then zips up. "This is treading into national security."
Oh, so this means that to reveal that CSIS uses phones or emails to communicate with Syrian authorities means that our national security might be jeopardized, because CSIS methodology has again been exposed.
Norris wonders if JP could at least state whether CSIS has made any inquiries of any type regarding Nabil.
"Objection, national security," from Macintosh.
With that ringing statement, Norris laughs, it is an appropriate place to end for the day.
JP LEARNS HIS GEOGRAPHY OVERNIGHT
John Norris begins Tuesday morning with the risk of making his children's atlas a court exhibit, but he wants to point out to JP that Tajikistan and Chechnya are not connected. Nowhere near it.
JP concedes the point, and says he checked his own atlas the previous evening. CSIS agents need to come to court to learn geography. On the basis of such crack work, we are supposed to trust the word of CSIS to detain indefinitely and deport to torture.
The morning is peppered by numerous questions which are objected to on grounds of national security, others of which are answered with "I'm not familiar" or, when pressed, "I don't believe he [Hassan] has any credibility."
JP calls Hassan's declaration a "conveniently constructed defence" of his activities and not credible.
Norris objects that it is not proper for witnesses to offer opinions about the credibility of other witnesses, and the judge cautions JP to be more careful.
MacIntosh objects to Norris's questions, saying that by asking questions which elicit national security objections, Norris is creating a confusing "mosaic" so that sooner or later JP might slip up and reveal something he shouldn't (oh no, CSIS uses phones. National security alert!!!)
JP is asked if he is aware that at the time Hassan was in Afghanistan, the mujahedin were supported by the U.S. and its allies.
JP is not sure.
Norris asks if there is any evidence on the public record that Hassan has assisted in or committed acts of violence.
"No. Not on the public record," JP says.
"Are you suggesting by that answer that there is something in the private record?" Norris asks, eliciting a response from JP that he cannot confirm or deny what is there.
Is everything about Hassan's beliefs classified? Norris asks.
"Yes," says JP, who might, with that answer, head a unit called Thought Crimes.
"Do national security concerns arise from Mr. Almrei's personal ideology"?
"I can't comment on what is the full basis of our allegations."
Norris goes through other parts of the allegation record, asking, for example, how the acronym for Immigration (CIC) gets transposed with CSIS.
"It looks like a typographical error," says an embarrassed JP, who may very well be a nice man, but why does he have to come to court to find mistakes and boo boos in the allegations?
Other questioning follows a similar pattern.
"If there's members of the bin Laden network in Canada, are they being monitored?" Norris asks.
"Objection, " from MacIntosh.
"How many supporters of bin Laden are there in Canada?"
"Objection," from MacIntosh.
Norris discusses the infamous testimony of Jim Judd on the "three-figures" number of terror suspects in Canada. Are these individuals linked to the bin Laden network or do they pose a more general threat?
"Objection," from MacIntosh.
Norris asks about a man named Al-Taha, a name Hassan got in Saudi Arabia when asking a friend who he should put on the visa application to show he knew someone in Canada. Hassan has never met Al-Taha and has no clue who he is, but that name is linked to Hassan by CSIS as proof of Hassan's alleged danger.
"Is it still the case that information on Al-Taha is classified?" Norris wonders.
"I can't confirm or deny," JP says
JP also does not know Al-Taha's whereabouts.
"Is he in Canada?" Norris asks.
"I believe he is."
"Is he in Richmond, BC?"
"You're drawing me into an area of national security," JP warns.
"We could try Canada 411," Norris notes with a smile.
It's the same thing with another man linked to Hassan, Ahmad Al-Kaysee, who freely walks the streets of Etobicoke. JP says CSIS does not, however, know where he is.
Anyone sitting through these hearings is struck by many things, among them, the sheer injustice and insanity of the process, and the realization that CSIS would not know a terrorist even if one put out a press release and showed up on their doorstep. Indeed, if the men Hassan is alleged to be linked to are such a threat, why are they not in jail? Why have they not been charged? Or is it that their names are Arabic, and that in a racist country like Canada, that is simply enough to cause the white liberals who run the show to nod in solemn understanding that this is bad news?
JP says that the problem with extremists, especially those who are released, is they may fly under the radar.
But surely Hassan Almrei would be on the CSIS radar screen, Norris counters.
"By under the radar we mean he will try and be innocuous, not wear a long beard, not go to your regular mosque, not being a pious Islamic extremist.," JP offers helpfully.
So there it is. Whatever you do as an Arab Muslim, you are suspect. You are pious, that makes you suspect. You tend towards the secular, you could be hiding something. In Ottawa, secret trial detainee Mohamed Harkat was considered suspect because he did not mix with others. In Montreal, Adil Charkaoui was considered suspect because he DID mix with others, and even got married, something that CSIS also found suspicious.
Norris tries to wade through the fog of CSIS allegations about what Almrei may or may not do, eventually eliciting from JP an admission that he really does not know what Hassan would do if released, since each case needs to be looked at on an individual basis, and they do not know his state of mind.
"I'm not an expert on guarantees or conditions of release," JP says, even though he has been sent to court to defend a document which claims no conditions would be acceptable for releasing Hassan.
Norris asks if CSIS ever supported the release of a secret trial detainee.
"No, it has not," JP says.
HASSAN TAKES THE STAND
On Wednesday, Norris introduces testimony from CSIS head Jim Judd (no relation to the country music duo), who said before a Senate committee earlier this year that there are believed to be hundreds of individuals of interest at large in Canada who are monitored (something JP would not acknowledge), that the government does keep terrorist watch lists, and that CSIS does have an internal inventory. Judd notes that the watch list includes people who are not involved in terrorism.
Norris is particularly interested in Judd's testimony which appears to contradict the CSIS position as displayed in Hassan's case of "once a terrorist, always a terrorist."
Judd was asked by Senator Fraser whether names are ever purged from the list or is it once in, always in.
Judd confirms that purges of the list do occur.
Two new bail sureties are also offered; longtime refugee advocate and Queen's University law professor Sharryn Aiken is offering a $1,000 bond and Liz and Barney Barningham of Durham Ontario, come forward with a $5,000 bond.
Hassan Almrei then takes the stand. He looks wan and very thin, and his voice is weak. It is day 29 of a hunger strike. He says he feels weak and dizzy and has a headache.
Almrei goes through his time in solitary confinement and talks about the dreariness of a typical day: 7 am, new staff comes in, 8 am breakfast, 9 am, if lucky, showers, and sometimes fresh air for 5 minutes in an outdoors concrete box.. Otherwise, the rest of the day is spent in his 9 X 12 concrete cell.
"I try my best not to go crazy. It's a very stressful place, very hard to be there," he says.
He is hunger striking for one hour of fresh air a day to exercise a knee which is in constant pain. He has made the request many times, and even a doctor has recommended exercise, but that is impossible in his cell.
The only response has been to bump his time up to 20 minutes a day, when it is available, which is the standard provincial requirement, but he is the only one in segregation who receives the 20 minutes. The rest only get 5 minutes.
Hassan is led by counsel Norris through the CSIS allegations once more.
Do you share bin Laden's goals? Do you believe it is a duty to kill Americans and Jews. Do you hate Western values?
Hassan answers no to all, adding if he did hate Western values he would not have come to Canada.
He says he does believe in jihad, or struggle, only in defence of an invaded country such as Afghanistan under the Soviet occupation.
He is asked if someone could go to paradise for being involved in a bin Laden Jihad. No, Hassan says.
Does bin Laden serve as a spiritual guide?
"Never was, never will."
Hassan also talks about having met a human smuggler in Thailand. As with the honey business, this is something CSIS found out about only because Hassan revealed it, not through any gumshoe work of their own. The pattern is similar. He met a human smuggler, a newspaper report says the US is concerned about human smugglers being connected to Al-Qaeda, ergo, Hassan must be similarly connected, even though the article in question notes only 1 person has ever been convicted of a human smuggling terrorist offence.
Hassan talks about being followed by CSIS in 2001.
"SO," CSIS lawyer Hoffman says in his best "aha, gotcha!" voice, trying to show Hassan is an expert at reconnaissance and what CSIS calls "clandestine measures," "you were able to DETECT them?"
"How could I not notice?" Almrei replies, noting there were 7 or 8 cars parked outside his apartment who followed him whenever he went out to a coffee shop or to a store.
He talks about his fears after 9/11/2001 and why he withheld information. For example, in one instance before the refugee board, his interpreter told him not to say that he was in Afghanistan, since he had no proof of his time there.
"I was afraid, I didn't sleep for a long time" after 9/11.
Hassan recalls that Immigration searched his apartment in 2000 while looking for a Saudi man who had overstayed his visa.
"Did you give them permission to enter?" Norris asks.
No, Hassan says, they just ordered him to sit in a chair.
Hassan then discusses an RCMP interrogation that took place shortly after his arrest. With no advance notice, they took him from the jail, refused him a lawyer though he asked for one, and kept him at a local RCMP office for a long day of interrogation. (Incidentally, this is the same RCMP detachment which has on at least three occasions refused customized copies of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Universal Declaration of Human Rights graciously offered to them by members of the Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada.)
The next day, the RCMP again returned to the West and asked if Hassan recognized a picture of someone, which he did not. "We know Nabil is nobody," the RCMP told him.
Again, no lawyer was allowed to be there for this visit.
Hassan must also go through questions about the RCMP computer book. Mounties downloaded the contents of his computer and then clipped selectively (very selectively) pictures that appeared in his temporary internet files cache. The pictures appeared on websites from, for example, CNN and the BBC, which had pictures of bin Laden after 9/11. The Mounties cut out the pictures and discarded the rest, and neglected to paste into the book the hundreds of unrelated pictures that were also there, from "soft" porn to banking ads.
These pictures, the RCMP claimed, proved that Hassan was a zealot and devotee of bin laden, rather than someone who surfed websites like millions of others after 9/11/2001.
Hassan says he never saved a picture on his computer except for one of his family. He is asked if he consciously saved any of the pictures in the infamous RCMP photo book, and replies, "My computer knowledge was very limited. I hardly know how to send an email."
"Do you view Canada as the enemy?" he is asked.
"Do you view Canadians as the enemy?"
" Not at all."
Hassan is asked by CSIS counsel Hoffman why he included in his solemn declaration the fact that on one occasion he imported 20 kilos of honey but neglected to say on another occasion he imported an additional 500 kilos. It is a ridiculous line of questioning: how is one to know what is to be included in the declaration, especially when it is done with the assistance of a good lawyer?
Under questioning from John Norris, Hassan is asked whether he imported items other than honey. Hassan replies that he imported pine nuts and oud.
"Did you mention how much oud you brought in [in the declaration]?" Norris asks.
"No," he replies, but of course CSIS doesn't care about that because there have been no Judith Miller articles about AK-47s allegedly hidden in perfume bottles.
"Do you know today how to get a false passport?" Hassan is asked.
"Of course not, all I know is my four walls," replies a man who has been in the hole for four years.
Norris asks if Hassan mentioned meeting the human smuggler to CSIS. Hassan says no. Hoffman had tried to make an issue of this earlier.
"Did you mention every other person you ever met in your life to CSIS?" Hassan is asked.
Again, the answer is no.
As Hassan walks back to the prisoner's box, the hearing comes to an end. Hassan has done extremely well under the questioning from the CSIS lawyer, which has often been intentionally confusing and under the belt.
As folks leave the courtroom, Hassan is gathered by his RCMP escort and sent back to his solitary confinement cell.
The next month is taken up with submissions from both parties, and then after that there will be a decision, perhaps in late September or October. In the meantime, Hassan remains confined in inhuman conditions, without charge, and his hunger strike aims to mark the remaining time he must spend behind bars with a small modicum of comfort and dignity.
Hassan is a broken man, physically. His weight is down to 168 pounds (more than a hundreds pounds less than what he weighed when he entered the jail), and his body has been through six hunger strikes, an almost intolerable toll. The effects of these hunger strikes will harm his health the rest of his days.
But he remains philosophical and optimistic. We must be patient, he constantly tells those he phones. He still believes Canada is the best country in the world, and hopes, one day soon, that it will live up to that reputation for him and the other secret trial detainees.
And Hassan IS patient. But how much longer his spirit can last under such brutal conditions, still under threat of deportation to torture, is a challenge not only to his inner strength, but to the conscience of Canadians.
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