Tortured in Syria, Abdullah Almalki hails long-sought apology as 'victory for Canada'

Tortured in Syria, Abdullah Almalki hails long-sought apology as 'victory for Canada'

An Ottawa man who was falsely imprisoned in Syria for nearly two years says he's hoping last week's apology and settlement from the federal government will help him finally move on with his life.

"My family and I are very pleased to receive this long-fought-for apology," Abdullah Almalki told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning on Monday.

"This is a victory for Canada. This is a victory for all of us. This is a victory for every person who holds dear the Charter of Rights and Freedoms."

On Friday, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland issued a statement saying that the government's apology, along with an undisclosed financial settlement, meant the civil case involving Almalki and two other men — Ahmad Abou-Elmaati and Muayyed Nureddin — is now closed.

"On behalf of the government of Canada, we wish to apologize to Mr. Almalki, Mr. Abou-Elmaati and  Mr. Nureddin, and their families, for any role Canadian officials may have played in relation to their detention and mistreatment abroad and any resulting harm," the statement said.

The settlement averted a long and potentially embarrassing trial for the government that was set to begin late last month. It comes 15 years and two federal inquiries after the detention and torture of the three men.

CBC News obtained exclusive access to some 18,000 pages of internal government documents which showed Canadian law enforcement officials not only knew three Canadians were being tortured in Syrian jails in the post-9/11 crackdown, but also co-operated with Syrian officials conducting their interrogations.

A 2008 report by former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci concluded that Canadian officials were indirectly responsible for the men's torture.

The following year, the House of Commons called on the government to provide formal apologies and compensation, and also do everything in its power to clear the records of the men at home and abroad.

"When I landed in Syria, it was unknown to me that the RCMP and CSIS had shared information — grossly unfair, totally false information — with the Syrians and other countries," Almalki recalled on Monday.

"[I spent] 22 months in jail, over 16 months in a solitary confinement cell — a cell that felt like being buried alive."

Delay blamed on politics

Alex Neve, secretary general for Amnesty International Canada, told Ottawa Morning that Almalki and the other two men suffered a "double indignity and injustice" at the hands of the Canadian government: first from their detention, and then from the length of time it took to receive redress.

Neve said he felt the delay in receiving an apology "simply comes down to politics."

"I think the previous government felt this was a line that would play well with a certain political constituency, would make it seem like they were tough on the war on terror," Neve said.

"When in fact, what this was — it wasn't that at all. This was being cruel around human rights."

'Torture takes its toll'

Almalki has said he was beaten and tortured for seven hours on his first day of detention, and that his interrogators wanted to know whether he sold equipment to the Taliban or al-Qaeda. They wanted Almalki to tell them what he was planning in Canada and demanded he confess to being Osama bin Laden's "right-hand man." 

The Syrian-born Almalki, who studied engineering at Carleton University, said the happiness on his parents' faces when he received the apology made the decade-plus fight worth it.

While he said the financial compensation would help his family live a "quiet, normal life," his children still have trouble travelling abroad because of the misinformation Canadian officials shared with other countries.

Almalki said he also suffers painful flashbacks to the nearly two years he spent in the hands of Syrian authorities.

"I hope for a better future, I hope that the future will be better for my family and I," he said. "But this torture takes its toll. I don't think anyone can fully recover from torture."