A journalist who has written three books on the RCMP says a typographical error in a federal commission of inquiry report led him to discover a great deal about Maher Arar’s past. Paul Palango, author of the new book Dispersing the Fog: Inside the Secret World of Ottawa and the RCMP (Key Porter Books, $32.95), told the Straight in a phone interview that he wonders if Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian engineer, has had a long-standing relationship with the FBI. Palango also said he thinks that the federal government made former RCMP commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli a fall guy, possibly to cover this up.
Zaccardelli resigned in 2006 after revelations that the RCMP shared information about Arar with U.S. authorities, who detained him at an airport in New York. “They had to have a scapegoat to hammer home this Arar story,” Palango said. “And he was made a scapegoat.”
A commission headed by Ontario associate chief justice Dennis O’Connor had a mandate to report on the period between Arar’s detention in the United States on September 26, 2002, and Arar’s return to Canada in October 2003. O’Connor determined that Arar was shipped to Syria by the Americans and tortured, even though he posed no threat to national security. Prime Minister Stephen Harper later announced a $12.5-million settlement (including legal fees) for Arar, who never testified under oath to anyone about his experiences.
Palango, a former national news editor at the Globe and Mail, said he had originally planned to write one chapter on Arar as an example of RCMP bungling. But it mushroomed into a much larger portion of the book as he learned more about the case. He noted that the O’Connor commission report provided very little information about Arar’s past.
“I didn’t know who he was,” Palango said. “If you asked the basic questions of journalists—who, what, where, when, why, and how—he’s like an invisible man.”
Palango discovered that the O’Connor commission report misspelled the name of a company that was listed as part of Arar’s employment history. In one place, it was identified as “CIM21000 Inc.”, and in another, it was written as “CIM2000”.
Palango later discovered that Arar had set up a company with a slightly different name, CIM 2000 Inc., which was registered between 1997 and 2000 in the name of his former sister-in-law, Parto Navidi. At the time, she and her ex-husband, Mourad Mazigh, were living in a house owned by an arms dealer named Pietro Rigolli. Rigolli was later jailed for violating a U.S. embargo on selling military hardware to Iran. Palango reports in his book that search warrants were executed on Navidi’s house and at a building at a Montreal airport, but that the affidavits to support the search warrants disappeared from a Montreal courthouse in 2000. In the book, Palango notes that it’s unclear whether Arar lived in the house with his brother-in-law and his brother-in-law’s then-wife.
Palango said that if in fact Arar was living there, “In light of the Rigolli investigation, which was conducted on both sides of the border in 1999 and 2000, Arar and his family would have been identified as being the tenants of Rigolli’s house. And all of those connections would have been made.”
In 1999, Arar went to Boston to work for a company called MathWorks, which Palango said was a contractor for the CIA and the U.S. defence department. Palango said that Arar appeared to have no difficulty obtaining work permits for the U.S., adding that it’s unlikely Arar was ever linked to terrorism.
“You can only infer from this that there is a special relationship between the U.S. government and Arar that had to be protected,” Palango maintained. “So what is that relationship? And why I lean towards the American angle is because of his access into the States. He can renew his work permits. He goes to work for MathWorks. You know, it seems all orchestrated to me.”
In a 2005 article citing unnamed CIA sources, the Washington Post reported that of 39 people who were sent to jails overseas through a process known as rendition, about 10 were later found to be innocent. Palango said that they all shared similar stories, which increased his suspicions about the true nature of the Arar case. As well, he claimed, all later got involved in left-wing politics. Arar’s wife, Monia Mazigh, the sister of Mourad Mazigh, ran for the federal NDP in the 2004 election. “So where does the FBI or CIA or U.S. intelligence want to be?” Palango said. “Where do they want information? It’s from the left wing.”
The Straight left a message for Arar through his publicist; Arar did not return the call by deadline.