Omar Khadr identified Maher Arar as one of the people he saw in an al-Qaeda safe house in Afghanistan, an FBI agent testified in a Guantanamo Bay courtroom Monday, presenting a version of events that contradicts Mr. Arar's claim that he has never been to Afghanistan.
Robert Fuller, who interrogated Mr. Khadr in October of 2002, while the then-15-year-old was detained at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, testified that Mr. Khadr said he saw Mr. Arar in a Kabul guesthouse run by a suspected al-Qaeda operative known as Abu Musab al-Suri.
The revelation came as prosecution lawyers in Mr. Khadr's Guantanamo Bay military commission case brought forward the first of their witnesses.
Mr. Arar - who was sent to Syria by the United States and subsequently tortured there - has always denied ever going "anywhere near" Afghanistan. In 2006, a Canadian commission of inquiry cleared him of any links to terrorist activities, leading to a $10.5-million compensation package and an apology from Ottawa, after officials admitted culpability in the affair.
Yet Mr. Arar has never been removed from a U.S. no-fly list. Monday's testimony may offer some explanation why.
According to Mr. Fuller, his interrogation of Mr. Khadr began on Oct. 7, 2002. Mr. Arar was sent to the Middle East on Oct. 8.
Prosecution lawyer John Murphy asked the agent about a series of individuals, about whom the Federal Bureau of Investigation asked Mr. Khadr, showing photos of the men during the 2002 interrogation. The list included suspected al-Qaeda leaders Ayman al-Zawahiri and Abu Zubaydah.
When Mr. Arar's photo came up, Mr. Fuller testified, Mr. Khadr identified him.
But like many such accounts of interrogation presented in Guantanamo Bay courtrooms, there is no supporting video or transcript to verify the details, including whether it was the interrogator or Mr. Khadr who first mentioned the Kabul guesthouse.
Mr. Khadr's military defence lawyers claim that anything Mr. Khadr said during his interrogations - including confessing to throwing a grenade that killed a U.S. soldier, for which he faces a murder charge - was obtained under torture and should be thrown out.
Mr. Fuller and another agent, identified only as Interrogator 11, claimed that Mr. Khadr was never abused, and instead was "very willing" to talk. Interrogator 11 added that Mr. Khadr said he was proud when told his actions during the 2002 firefight led to the death of a U.S. soldier.
While the focus of Monday's court proceedings was supposed to have been on Mr. Khadr's alleged admissions, it was quickly overshadowed by the Arar revelation.
"This is a gratuitous swipe at Maher Arar's reputation - again," said Kerry Pither, an Ottawa activist who has acted as a spokeswoman for Mr. Arar.
"Why would Maher dignify this with a response? Why should he have to, is my response," she continued. "I can't speak for Maher … but why should he be expected to respond to this kind of baseless allegation that has no credibility whatsoever."
Rights groups reacted angrily to the development. "Instead of admitting the outrageous mishandling of Khadr's case, the government is even ready to tarnish the name of an innocent man like Maher Arar who was tortured at the behest of the U.S. government to justify this broken and tainted system," said Jamil Dakwar of the American Civil Liberties Union, who is in Guantanamo monitoring the court case.
Kory Teneycke, director of communications for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, declined to comment Monday.
Mr. Arar first addressed the Afghanistan question at a Canadian news conference a month after he was released from a year's detention in a Syrian prison. "I have never been to Afghanistan," he said at the time. "I have never been anywhere near Afghanistan."
However, within a week, Canadian officials - who were never identified - leaked the confession Mr. Arar gave under torture in Syria, which suggested he attended a training camp for several months in 1993. At that time, Mr. Khadr would have been six or seven years old.
Mr. Justice Dennis O'Connor, who headed the Canadian commission that looked at the Arar affair, concluded in 2006 that "there is no evidence to indicate that Mr. Arar has committed any offence or that his activities constitute a threat to the security of Canada."
The commission completely sidestepped the question of whether Mr. Arar went to Afghanistan, taking the position that it was not relevant to its mandate.
The Globe has previously reported that a former Afghan training camp instructor, Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi, who was arrested in the U.S. in 2004, also told the FBI Mr. Arar had been to Afghanistan.
With reports from Steven Chase in Ottawa