OTTAWA — The RCMP is laying a torture charge against a former Syrian military intelligence officer for alleged involvement in the brutal treatment of Ottawa telecommunications engineer Maher Arar.
An RCMP document filed in court Tuesday charges Col. George Salloum with torture under the Criminal Code.
While the colonel's whereabouts are unknown, the development represents the culmination of a lengthy RCMP investigation.
Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian, was detained in New York in September 2002 and soon after deported by U.S. authorities — winding up in a grave-like cell in Damascus.
Under torture, Arar gave false confessions to Syrian military intelligence officers about supposed collaboration with Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network.
A federal commission of inquiry led by Justice Dennis O'Connor concluded that faulty information the RCMP passed to the United States very likely led to Arar's year-long ordeal.
Arar's lawyer Paul Champ, his wife Monia Mazigh, and Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, appeared at a news conference Tuesday to announce the RCMP's move.
Mazigh read a statement from her husband welcoming the criminal charge. Arar said he had been co-operating with the Mounties since laying a complaint in 2005.
Champ said Arar provided "lengthy and candid'' interviews to the RCMP, responded to many requests for information, reviewed photos, suggested contacts and handed over documentation.
Neve said the charge — the first Canadian one for torture abroad — sends a strong message that those who commit "their terrible abuses in faraway prison cells'' may find themselves judged in court.
It is unclear whether Salloum, now believed to be in his mid-fifties, can be located. And since Syria is beset by warring factions, there are doubts about the prospect of a trial any time soon.
It marks the second time in recent months the RCMP have laid charges against someone in a far-flung country for a crime committed many years ago.
In June, almost seven years after the overseas hostage-taking of former journalist Amanda Lindhout, the RCMP arrested and charged a Somalian man.
Lindhout and photographer Nigel Brennan were seized by young gunmen near strife-torn Mogadishu, Somalia, in August 2008. Both were released on Nov. 25, 2009.
Ali Omar Ader, a Somalian national, faces a charge of hostage-taking for his purported role as a negotiator.