A former Guantanamo Bay detainee is suing Canada’s government for its alleged complicity in abusive treatment he suffered at the hands of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Cuba, his lawyer told VICE News on Monday, following multi-million dollar settlements for other men who say they were tortured as a result of information provided by Canadian officials.
Former Montreal resident Djamel Ameziane suffered physical and psychological abuse at the hands of U.S. officials while being held in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, and in those sessions, interrogators often used information given to them by Canadian intelligence agencies, wrote his lawyer Nate Whitling in a statement of claim filed in Ottawa on Monday.
Whitling represented former Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr who was recently awarded $10.5 million by the Canadian government for its complicity in abuses he suffered. Ameziane is demanding $50 million in compensation.
Ameziane would be willing to put his claim on hold if the government convenes a public inquiry into what happened, according to Whitling.
“We are seeking a full public review and analysis of Canada’s role in the commission of torture in the aftermath of 9/11, and in particular its involvement in the intelligence gathering regime in Guantanamo Bay,” Whitling told VICE News. “We feel that some manner of public inquiry needs to be conducted in order for all of Canada’s activities to be brought to light.”
Ameziane, who declined an interview request, told the Canadian Press he didn’t know it was possible to sue the government until he read the news about Khadr, a former fellow inmate of his. Ameziane is now living in Algeria, and said as a result of his 11-year long detention, he’s struggling to get back on his feet.
BEATINGS IN AFGHANISTAN
Officials with Canada’s Ministry of Public Safety said they could not comment on the specifics of Ameziane’s claim because of ongoing litigation. However, spokesperson Scott Bardsley said the ministry has issued a new directive to “strengthen procedures to avoid complicity in mistreatment or torture by foreign entities.”
“The new Directions prohibit disclosing or requesting information that would result in a substantial risk of mistreatment,” wrote Bardsley in an email to VICE News. “They also strengthen accountability and transparency by requiring new annual reports to the Minister and Canadians, and notifications to the Minister, the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, and review bodies.”
Ameziane, an Algerian citizen, fled to Afghanistan after being denied refugee status in Montreal in 2000, afraid of being deported back to his home country. He fled to Pakistan as soon as fighting broke out in 2001, but was captured by local police and handed over to US forces in exchange for a bounty, according to his claim.
“We feel that some manner of public inquiry needs to be conducted in order for all of Canada’s activities to be brought to light,” says lawyer Nate Whitling
He’s says he’s never been charged or prosecuted for a crime, and says he’s never been associated with Al Qaeda or the Taliban.
Ameziane lived in Montreal when then-Montreal resident Ahmed Ressam, also Algerian, was planning a foiled plot to bomb the Los Angeles airport. No later than December 1999, Canada began sharing information with the U.S. government, including the CIA, Ameziane’s claim alleges.
After being captured, Ameziane was taken to a U.S. air base in Kandahar, where he claims guards would beat him without provocation, slam his head against the ground, pin him down with their knees, and use barking dogs to scare him.
In 2002, he was taken to Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba. Canadian officials asked for permission to interrogate Ameziane themselves, and went to the base twice in 2003 to do so, knowing that their conversations would be recorded by the U.S. and available for future use, said the claim.
Canada shared “extensive intelligence” with US officials in Guantanamo, and also used material obtained by the US through torture in their own interrogations of Ameziane, the claim continued.
For about six months, Ameziane was transferred between two different blocks reserved for detainees who were deemed to be uncooperative. He was given a thin mat to sleep on, a pair of pants, a smock, and flop flip flops. He was given a sheet every night at 10 p.m., that was taken away at 5 a.m.
Every 15 or 30 minutes, throughout the night, guards would wake him up by kicking his cell. On his way to the recreation yard, where he’d be taken in shackles and chains, he wasn’t allowed to speak to other prisoners or even move his eyes left to right — sometimes, if he did, guards would shove him and slam his head against the wall.
The statement also outlines one instance where guards stormed into Ameziane’s cell and slammed his head into the ground, dislocating his jaw. Then they sprayed cayenne pepper all over his body, and hosed him down his water, making his skin burn. They also waterboarded him, tilting his head back and spraying a hose between his nose and mouth for several minutes. After this, guards brought Ameziane to an interrogation room, where they chained his feet to the floor, and left him freezing and in pain. The claims have not been proven in court.
During one interrogation, Ameziane was kept in a room for over 30 hours, forced to listen to techno music that was blasting so loud that it hurt his eardrums.
The claim also alleges that Canadian officials knew Ameziane was being held without charge, with no access to a lawyer. Ameziane realized that U.S. and Canadian officials were sharing information when he heard things he’d told Canadian officials during administrative review hearings in Guantanamo, his statement of claim says.
Previous public inquiries have been held into the cases of Maher Arar, who was awarded $10 million in 2007 for Canada’s role in the U.S.’s decision to deport him to Syria, and Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El Maati and Muayyed Nureddin, who were tortured in Syria on the basis of information provided by CSIS and the RCMP. The three men reached a $31 million settlement with the Canadian government last month.
“In our view, the same level of public scrutiny ought to be applied to this situation,” said Whitling.