Maher Arar, whose wrongful deportation and torture in Syria led to a multimillion-dollar settlement with Ottawa, says Canada must decide whether it wants to continue to "demonize" Omar Khadr or to rehabilitate him.
Arar, now a human rights activist in Ottawa, told host Evan Solomon on CBC News Network's Power & Politics that Khadr needs to talk to someone who understands what he went through during his imprisonment in Guantanamo Bay, and that he is willing to talk to Khadr if asked.
"If the government wants me to assist, if [Khadr's] lawyers want me to assist ... but let's be clear, it is a decision [Khadr] needs to make," Arar said.
Arar said Khadr was likely coerced into making statements after being abused and tortured at Guantanamo Bay prison.
“I can relate to him, I can relate to all the Guantanamo detainees,” Arar said. “The minute I hear the word torture, something in my mind starts thinking ... what did this guy go through and how is he going to recover, most importantly?”
Arar, a Canadian citizen since 1991 and Ottawa-based telecommunications engineer, was detained during a stopover in New York in September 2002 and deported to Syria, where he was born, even though he was carrying a Canadian passport.
He was incarcerated, beaten and tortured in a Syrian jail for nearly a year after his “rendition” by U.S. authorities.
After an official inquiry that cleared him of all alleged ties to terrorism, Arar was given an official apology from the federal government and awarded a $10-million settlement.
Arar said Khadr was forced into a sleep deprivation program for two weeks before Canadian security intelligence officers interrogated him, and that the outcome of Khadr's case may have been different if he had been afforded a fair civil trial.
“He was not treated fairly, I think. The entire legal process he went through was flawed. We know he was tortured and mistreated,” Arar said.
Despite the fact that Khadr has family ties to al-Qaeda and confessed to killing an American medic, Arar said his age – 15 at the time of the crime – should have been considered in his legal proceedings.
“I don’t know why our government goes to Africa to lobby for the rights of child soldiers when right here at home we have one of our own who should have been afforded this right,” he said.
Arar, who endured psychological and physical torture in a Syrian “dungeon” said he would have said and done anything for relief or a chance at freedom – even confessing to being a 9/11 plotter. It was likely the same for Khadr, he suggested.
“When you’re put in a cage in Guantanamo and you see no light at the end of the tunnel, they give you two options: you’re either locked for your life, or you plead guilty,” he told Solomon.
Now that Khadr is back in Canada after 10 years in detention, Arar said the focus must be on helping him become an active, contributing citizen after his release. Now incarcerated at Millhaven Institution in Ontario, Khadr is eligible for parole as early as May 2013.
“Whether he’s guilty or not, he’s back in Canada — we have to deal with this. The question we have to ask as Canadians, is do we really want to continue to demonize him, even if he really was a bad guy? Or do we really want to look ahead in time and see what kind of person we want Omar Khadr to be once he leaves prison.”
If asked, Arar said he would be willing to help guide him through rehabilitation and reintegration back to society.
“If I’m asked to assist, I wouldn’t mind because I really feel ... whoever asks me for help I would never say no," he said.
"He needs to trust a person in his life – whether it’s a relative or someone he didn’t know before or someone he knew before. It is a decision he needs to make because he has to feel comfortable and confident that the person will be trustworthy."