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A world of Maher Arars Add to ...

There has now been a palpable change. The carte blanche given after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to U.S. authorities to conduct anti-terror operations on European soil has become a menacing liability, and the subject of potentially destructive investigations, in several European countries. Governments are also reducing military co-operation with the U.S: This week saw Britain and Denmark announcing plans to withdraw troops from Iraq, with others expected to follow.

And when the European Parliament last week released a report condemning the 1,245 CIA flights made in Europe and the 20 European citizens subjected to "rendition," the responses no longer fell along predictable left-right lines.

European leaders are now looking nervously to Canada. Mr. Arar's "rendition" in 2002 was probably the first major use of the practice to come to light, and Canada is the first country to have been scorched politically by the explosive discovery that innocent people were tortured as a result of the practice.

Senior Canadian government officials and European Union diplomats have told The Globe and Mail that they believe the U.S. is avoiding any apology or acknowledgment of wrongdoing in the Arar case because it could open a Pandora's box of recriminations from Europe, where two cases almost identical to Mr. Arar's are being tried in Germany and Italy and at least 18 more could be pending.

American intelligence officials are facing criminal charges in European courts, and an admission that mistakes have been made could transform transatlantic relations into an enormous forensic investigation, they say.

Europe is now feeling the pain that Canada has undergone, in part as a result of information unearthed in the half-dozen inquiries into Mr. Arar's treatment. In Italy, the fallout has centred on the case of Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, a Milan cleric also known as Abu Omar, who was seized by CIA agents in 2003 and flown to Cairo, where he was tortured and sexually abused in prison. He was released this week.

Last Friday, Italy had its Arar moment. Milan magistrate Armando Spataro indicted 26 U.S. citizens, including Italian CIA station chief Robert Seldon Lady, and five Italians in the rendition of Abu Omar. All of them face charges of kidnapping. The Italian officials include the head of intelligence, Nicolo Pollari, who like the RCMP chief was forced to resign over the case, which is known in Italy as the Imam Rapito ("kidnapped imam") affair.

The U.S. has refused to acknowledge the Italian prosecution or to admit that the rendition occurred. It has also refused the magistrate's request to extradite the defendants (the Italian government has also decided not to press the extradition request at the highest levels). But Italian law allows people to be tried, convicted and sentenced in absentia, so the case will continue, likely revealing embarrassing information about high-level support for the renditions in Italian governments.

In Germany, a case strikingly similar to Mr. Arar's has led to arrest warrants against 13 CIA officers and damning revelations about German complicity in kidnapping. That case involves Khaled el-Masri, who was seized while on vacation in 2003 and sent to Afghanistan for five months (similarly, Mr. Arar, a computer programmer, had been returning from a family vacation). As with Mr. Arar, it appears that Mr. el-Masri has no relationship with terrorism and that his rendition was founded on completely false evidence.

Both Sweden and Portugal are also facing major investigations which accuse their governments of allowing citizens to be seized and sent to Egypt and other countries for torture, without any criminal charges.

Significantly, the case against the U.S. is now being made by judges and officials who have traditionally held pro-American, terror-fighting positions.

Mr. Spataro, the Milan magistrate, is as far from an anti-American firebrand as you can get in Italy: He has spent much of the past 30 years prosecuting terrorist and Mafia groups in Italy, and is not known for a hostility to U.S. interests.

"The job is the same — I have led many investigations against internal terrorism since the early 1970s. Many of my colleagues were killed by terrorist organizations," Mr. Spataro said this week from a Milan office filled with Americana — the wall behind his desk is dominated by a Norman Rockwell print chronicling the integration of southern U.S. schools.

"But we were absolutely sure that it is impossible to fight terrorism without respect for the laws. And with this investigation I hope that we can confirm that it is impossible to win over Islamic terrorism without the respect for law."

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