Wednesday, February 24, 2010

What a friend we have in CSIS

With all the talk of reforming the RCMP recently, there's another out-of-control organization that appears to need a top-to-bottom scrubbing as well: the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

Supposedly CSIS is overseen by the Security and Intelligence Review Committee, but SIRC appears to be largely restricted to scolding. The CSIS interrogation of Omar Khadr caused SIRC's finger to wag, not to mention the agency's concealing of evidence, and its involvement in the torture of Abousfian Abdelrazik. In the latter case, we were assured that SIRC would go from wagging to probing, but that was seven months ago.

Readers will remember, too, Justice Frank Iacobucci's independent examination in 2008 of possible involvement of "Canadian officials" (from the RCMP and CSIS) in the detention and torture overseas of three more brown-skinned Canadian citizens, Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad Abou-Elmaati and Muayyed Nureddin. He issued a public report with a lot of hemming and hawing in it.

But there was also a section of the report that the Harper government insisted be kept secret, for "national security" reasons. And now we have some idea why.

Justice Iacobucci fought against the government-imposed secrecy, and today was able to release a short supplemental report.

It's pretty damning. CSIS agents actually travelled to Egypt to interrogate Abou-Elmaati in his dungeon, after corresponding with Egyptian officials. He was badly tortured as an indirect consequence, Iacobucci concluded.

But this paragraph, in which the judge demonstrates his mastery of understatement, stands out in particular:

Several witnesses, from both CSIS and the RCMP, told the Inquiry that it was not the responsibility of intelligence or law enforcement officials to be concerned about the human rights of a Canadian detainee, which were for DFAIT alone to consider. This approach, is not, in my opinion, satisfactory.

The Department of Foreign Affairs, however, had been left out of the loop, and so had no human rights decision to make.

"Not my department" ranks right up there with Befehl ist Befehl as a catch-all alibi for casual CSIS and RCMP involvement in the violation of human rights. But this sort of poisoned thinking is fostered at the top.

Once again, as in the Colvin torture-memos, over the release of which Harper is defying Parliament, "national security" seems too often to be synonymous with "Conservative government security." These fresh revelations provide even more reason to make this government as insecure as possible. And to find a better mechanism to hold our runaway secret police accountable.

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