Benamar Benatta has decided to sue Canada for his treatment at the hands of Canadian and U.S officials. He is asking $35 million. His story begins back in his homeland.
Benatta was in a tight spot back in Algeria. In 1992 he joined the air force, but that was the year that the military seized power to prevent the Islamic Salvation Front from coming to power in an election they were slated to win. Between the military and the Front it was a real Hobson’s choice, because the Front made it very clear that it did not believe in democracy, and that election would have been, in all likelihood, Algeria’s last.
In the civil war that followed, both sides committed horrible atrocities, and Benatta wanted no part of either side. It took eight years, but in 2000 he had his chance to get out. He was part of a group of officers sent to the United States for training on new aircraft technology, and the following year he went AWOL. After a couple unsuccessful stints at jobs such as bus boy and bartender in New York, he bought some false papers and made his way to the Canadian border, where he claimed refugee status.
Under Canadian law, he had a right to be interviewed in French, but that right was not respected when he arrived at Fort Erie on September 4, 2001. On September 12, the day after the destruction of the World Trade Towers, he was driven over the border and handed over to U.S. officials, again contrary to Canadian law. Records of this event have been lost.
Benatta’s treatment in the U.S. has been horrific. He was kept behind bars for just short of five years, even though the FBI determined as early as November, 2001, that he was not a terrorist. While in custody, he was chained and manacled. He was beaten. Guards banged on the cell every half hour to keep him from getting any sleep. U.S. Judge K. Kenneth Schroeder Jr. found that he had been “held in custody under harsh conditions which can be said to be ‘oppressive’.” Condoleezza Rice has said that “We don’t do torture,” but in this case the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found otherwise.
As a result of efforts by his lawyer, Canadian authorities requested his return to Canada to allow him to make a refugee claim. He was brought back to Canada on July 20, 2006, and he is still waiting a decision on that claim. It would be bizarre if his claim were denied, but strange things happen. What is totally beyond understanding is why this man was left to rot in American jails for all those years even after it was clear that he was not a terrorist.
It is expected that Benatta will file a claim with Canada for compensation for his illegal deportation to the United States.