By Iain Marlow – Staff Reporter
(source: The Star.com)
Jameel Jaffer dug up torture memos
One of the key figures behind the cascade of documents detailing torture and abuse within America’s global "war on terror" happens to be a Canadian-born graduate of Toronto’s Upper Canada College.
Jameel Jaffer, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer born in London, Ont., was instrumental in filing and fighting an unlikely Freedom of Information Act request that eventually unearthed thousands of pages of secret documents which illustrated damning evidence of U.S. government complicity in violations of international humanitarian law.
"A lot of the documents describe abuses that are really horrific," he said in an interview. "It was hard to believe that these incidents had occurred in facilities run by the United States."
Jaffer told the Star last night that this type of lengthy and expensive legal muck-raking is unlikely to occur in Canada because grants and funding are so scarce. "There are people doing this kind of work in Canada and they have a tough job," he said."
The request was filed by Jaffer and fellow ACLU lawyer Amrit Singh – daughter of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh – in October 2003, before the disturbingly iconic Abu Ghraib prison photographs emerged. When those photos came out in April of 2004, they spurred Jaffer and Singh to press their request in court, which is sometimes the only way to successfully pursue an FOI request.
Six years later, more than 130,000 pages of previously classified evidence has trickled out; much of it has been seized upon by critics of America’s seemingly unending global war on terrorism.
The documents uncovered by Jaffer and Singh are a gruesome testament to the grim realities of the post-9/11 world: they revealed fissures between the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the military over how to treat detainees at Guantanamo Bay; vivid descriptions of conditions within the CIA's overseas "black site" prisons, where detainees were sent without trial; the Justice Department "torture memos," which revealed prominent U.S. officials had essentially signed-off on torture; and autopsies of prisoners who died in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The evidence has been seized upon by supporters of the war as well, who say Jaffer and the ACLU have given a propaganda weapon and recruitment beacon for Al Qaeda.
"In general, I think our position is that national security is increasingly used as a pretext to suppress information that would embarrass government officials and information related to criminal activity," Jaffer told the Star. "And we think that the abuse of national security for those ends is something that, in the end, jeopardizes not just security but democracy as well, and that's really what motivates a lot of these cases."
Jaffer grew up in Kingston, Ont., and went to public school there, but did his last few years of high school at UCC, long-considered the school of Canada's elite. He attended a small liberal arts college in the United States before studying for his masters degree at University of Cambridge and then continued with a law degree at Harvard, where he was an editor of the Harvard Law Review.
After graduating, he worked for a year in New York then clerked for a year in Ottawa at the Supreme Court.He returned to New York and worked as a private litigator, where he has remained. He was hired by the ACLU in 2002 as a staff attorney. When asked about the possibility of doing similar work in Canada, Jaffer, who remains a Canadian citizen, said much of the funding for such work remains in the U.S.
"In the U.S., we can count on large foundations … here are dozens of foundations that will support public interest litigation and that's just not true in Canada," he said. "One consequence, is that it's harder to do this kind of work up there, which I think is unfortunate because I think there is a real need for more resources in this area in Canada."
Jaffer said he was always interested in civil rights and civil liberty issues, but that "after 9/11, that academic interest turned into something much more practical and pressing." Even when he was working at a private law firm in New York, he frequently did pro bono work for the ACLU, visiting detainees in New Jersey holding cells. He is now director of the ACLU's National Security Project. (With files from the New York Times)
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