Amnesty slams probe into Canadians jailed in Syria

Muayyed Nureddin (L), Abdullah Almalki (C) and Ahmad El Maati take part in a demonstration outside the Langevin Block, where Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper has an office, in Ottawa, May 8, 2008. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Three Canadians who say they were tortured in Syria have been denied due process and fairness by a commission investigating Ottawa’s role in their detention, Amnesty International said on Friday.

Retired Supreme Court Judge Frank Iacobucci, who headed the 22-month inquiry, is due to deliver his report to the government on Monday. A shorter version -- stripped of sensitive information -- will then be made public.

Ahmad El Maati, Abdullah Almalki and Muayyed Nureddin were arrested separately when entering Syria between 2001 and 2003. They say they were tortured and interrogated, and some of the questions they were asked were based on information that could only have come from Canada.

The inquiry was largely closed, and the commission only spoke once to the three men, who were not allowed to question witnesses or examine evidence. Government lawyers say the probe is focusing on possible misconduct by officials rather than trying to clear the trio’s names.

“The process of this inquiry over the last two years has been profoundly unfair to the three men ... (and) entirely failed to respect well-established principles of openness and public access,” said Alex Neve, secretary-general of Amnesty’s Canadian branch.

At a news conference, Neve said the process was “so deeply flawed” that it should never be used again and was especially critical of the decision to focus on government officials.

“That above all else is perhaps where this inquiry went so terribly wrong,” he said. A spokeswoman for the commission said she would not comment before the report was released.

Ottawa ordered the probe in 2006 after an earlier inquiry found that software engineer Maher Arar had been deported to Syria by the United States, and tortured there, after Canadian police falsely identified him as an Islamic extremist.

“How can we trust the findings of an inquiry that has only heard one side of the story?” El Maati said at the news conference.

Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Frank McGurty