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September 7, 2010

Intelligence based evidence not enough to convict accused

Yahya Abdul Rahman

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A friend of mind told me that shortly after the events of September 11, 2001 an incident took place in a restaurant where 3 women were sitting at a table and talking in an unknown "foreign language."

Someone sitting nearby became alarmed, called the police and reported these 3 women were planning a terrorist attack. The women were arrested, questioned and placed in custody for some time before being released.

I relate this story to highlight that in an environment of heightened state of fear and paranoia, which was certainly the case after the September 11th attacks, many people will interpret actions as being sinister or suspicious which otherwise are totally innocent. Such people piece things together and then come to a conclusion which is not at all related to what is really taking place.

And this is how spy agencies work.

They will monitor the everyday actions of a person or persons and then piece those actions together. Actions which are totally mundane otherwise become cause for alarm in the mind of a spy.

Once the spy pieces all of these actions together they form a narrative and that narrative, when presented in an already existing environment of fear and paranoia, becomes totally believable. Yet all along the person is totally innocent of that which he is accused.

Due to irresponsible reporting by the media, which continually portray Muslims as a dangerous fifth column in our society and an unwanted menace who are hell-bent on disrupting our peace and security, it is little wonder that many people are afraid. If all I knew about Muslim was what I heard or read in the media I would be scared to death too.

And this brings me to the case of Misbahuddin Ahmed, Hiva Alizadeh and Dr. Khurram Syed Sher who are being accused of planning to launch an attack on the Parliament buildings here in Ottawa and Montreal's subway system.

In addition, they are being accused of raising money to funnel to terrorist groups in Afghanistan in order to purchase improvised electronic devices to kill Canadian and coalition troops in Afghanistan.

Already these 3 men are assumed to be guilty by virtue of the fact that they are Muslim. Gone is the gold standard of presumption of innocence until proven otherwise. And the standard of proof of a person's is also quite lax in such an environment. In addition, evidence, based exclusively on intelligence, falls short of the evidentiary threshold needed in normal cases for criminal prosecution.

The 3 men, especially Hiva Alizadeh who is being dubbed as the "ring -leader," are being accused of using Ottawa Public Library computers to send "coded messages" to one other.

But, as reported by the media, these codes were easily "broken" by investigators. All this means is that monitors could not find anything in these alleged messages so they had to read between the lines in order to find something. And when one is already looking for something they will find it. Just ask those who study literary criticism on a daily basis.

Michel Juneau-Katsuya, a former senior CSIS counter-terrorism agent and one-time RCMP security service officer, is quoted as saying, "One of the (Communication's Security Establishment - CSE) filters picked up their chat.

The way the system is established, we've got red flags everywhere and you can trip one of those flags anytime. If you're travelling to Pakistan, that's a red flag.

If you're going on certain web sites, that's another red flag and if you use certain key words in e-mail. When you've got enough red flags, then you become a person of interest. My understanding is they were caught from the Internet."

So there you have it! Imagine, Pakistani men talking about traveling to their country of origin! How dare they!

And how dare they visit certain websites or use certain key words, like Allah or Islam, in their messages. Surely this is proof positive of their guilt.

The rationale which is being used to establish a person's guilt is totally absurd.

These same kind of methods which were used against Mahmoud Jaballah, Mohammad Mahjoub, Hassan Almrei, Mohamed Harkat and Adil Charkaoui, also known as The Security Certificate Five.

In addition, many Muslims who have been arrested with much TV fanfare and ninja-like roof top sharpshooters, were later released after finding them innocent, so we should be careful not to jump to conclusions based solely on media reports.

It is essential, unless our justice system becomes the laughing stock of the rest of the world, that the standard of evidence for convicting a person must not be based on scattered pieces of a person's life strung together, but on hard evidence that those being accused have committed an offense. From what I can tell from media reports this standard is not being used.

Yahya Abdul Rahman lives in Ottawa and hosts an online blog at:

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