The Abousfian Abdelrazik Puzzle

By David T. Jones on July 2, 2009

What was I missing?  What was it that I didn‘t understand?

The continuing saga of Abousfian Abdelrazik, marooned in the Canadian embassy in Khartoum for over a year, had a “Kafkaesque Catch 22” quality to it that sounds more like the opening scene of some comedy/suspense thriller than a “we’re telling you this with a straight face” diplomatic explanation.  Even with his return it leaves an outside observer head shaking.

For perspective, let’s suppose some hyphenated-U.S. male citizen was picked up by the gendarmes of a country with a generally unsavory reputation for pristine respect of the civil rights of any citizen—foreign or domestic (think Midnight Express).  Thus, we appreciate the reality that even if the arrested individual is in a semi-privileged category and thus given special treatment, e.g., being chained next to the latrine bucket rather than some distance away, circumstances are not world class.

As a consular officer, you are aware of his incarceration and visit him officially, attempting to obtain his release, or if that is not possible, to assure that he is not treated worse than the citizens of the country.  In the fullness of time, the individual is released; high tails it to the U.S. embassy; and demands “assistance”, that is, a “get me out of here” plea, claiming that he has been physically disrespected while jailed.

The process is straight-forward.  No personal or family funds available?  Extend a short-term, limited loan with interest to purchase a one-way return to U.S. ticket.  No passport?  Even easier; issue a time-limited, destination-limited passport on the spot.  Individual is a psychiatric case?  Individual can be accompanied by a qualified attendant.  And if we really want him back (reverse rendition?), he can be shipped on official USG aircraft. 

In short, if we want him home, we get him home.

Thus the moving goal posts nonexplanations as to why Mr Abdelrazik couldn’t travel suggested that the explainers were disingenuous.  Compare, for example, Mr Abdelrazik’s circumstances with the spare no expense, raise heaven and earth efforts by the GOC to return Lebanese-Canadians to safety in Canada during the fighting in summer 2006. 

Without attempting to sort through the veracity of reports regarding who visited Mr Abdelrazik while imprisoned or what information the questioners were seeking (or his claims of abuse), there are many odd disconnects:

— issuing him a limited passport that he was then unable to use since he had no airline ticket;

— refusing to issue another passport until he had a ticket (with officials reportedly suggesting any individual contributing funds for a ticket could be prosecuted for supporting terrorism); 

— having obtained a ticket through the contributions of over 150 Canadians, being denied a passport as a national security threat with that decision substantiated by reference to the UN “no fly” blacklist of terrorist suspects.

Meanwhile, Mr Abdelrazik camped out in the Canadian embassy—an odd circumstance worthy of a six-figure book deal—as one of the most curious embassy residents since the USG sheltered Hungarian Joseph Cardinal Mindszenty between 1956-71.  

Moreover, there are intimations that attribute Mr Abdelrazik’s problems to the USG.  And, to be sure, the USG in July 2006 designated him as “posing a significant risk of committing acts of terrorism that threaten the security of U.S. nationals and the national security.”  The USG placed him on the UN “no fly” list for individuals connected with terrorism and presumably vetoed Canada’s 2007 request to delist him.

Considerable pro-Abdelrazik argumentation rides on the assertion that CSIS and the RCMP have “cleared” him; however, the official statements circa November 2007 were hardly blanket “pure as the driven snow” endorsements.  The RCMP, for example, says it, “has conducted a review of its files and was unable to locate any current and substantive information that indicates Mr Abdelrazik is involved in criminal activity.”  That statement simply says the RCMP has no information—not that such information doesn’t exist.  Nor can one assume that all terrorist-supportive activity is “criminal” under Canadian law.  

Nevertheless, it was clear that the GOC didn‘t want Mr Abdelrazik back in Canada and  pretzeled itself in judicial arguments to prevent his return.  Finally pressured by Parliament’s foreign affairs committee and increasingly preemptory demands from the courts, the government yielded.  Assuming that Minister Nicholson’s commitment means near term return, it will still be during the extended summer recess when media coverage is minimal by definition.

Still it is clear there is embarrassment ahead—in the end perhaps as expensive an embarrassment as the $10 million compensation garnered by Mayer Arar.


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