Wednesday, September 20, 2006


As the Congress of the United States solemnly debates the question of whether or not we should engage in acts of torture and redefine the Geneva Accords to our own liking, nothing so crystallizes the sorry state we have become as does the newly released report from the government of Canada on the tragedy that was inflicted upon Maher Arar.

Arar, you will recall, was detained on US soil, flown in bondage to Jordan and driven across the border to Syria, where he was tortured and where he was confined for years. Arar was never charged with any crime in any country and, as the Canadian government has admitted, there was never any basis in fact even to be suspicious of him, let alone to detain him.

It might be a good idea for those who insist on the value of extraordinary methods of interrogation to reflect upon this case. Arar, repeatedly beaten by the Syrian interrogators with metal cables, eventually "confessed" to having traveled to Afghanistan to visit terrorist training camps. As the Canadian investigation revealed, it was a simple task to establish the truth of the matter, that Arar had never been in Afghanistan.

But there are two other aspects of this case that I think especially telling.

The Canadians have officially admitted their own wrong-doing in this matter; they have also said that they didn't think that the US government would do what they did to Arar, because they believed that we in the USA were a civilized people who "shared the values" of our Canadian neighbors.

But whose values do we, in fact, share?

We were responsible for Arar's being removed to Syria, a country long known to use torture on prisoners. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has proclaimed, under oath before Congress, that our government has never "rendered" a prisoner to another country without first receiving assurances that the prisoner would not be tortured. Gonzales is now trying to wriggle out from under that assurance by telling journalists that Arar was not "rendered" by our government; he was merely deported.

But why would a citizen of Canada be deported to Syria? Why would the US government, which has declared Syria a rogue state, a supporter of terrorism, a state with which we should not even negotiate, accept assurances of any kind from Syria?

I suspect that we did indeed receive assurances from Syria about what would happen to Arar on their territory, and that was why we sent him there.

Maher Arar has been restored to his family, returned home to Canada. The years that were taken from him can not be returned. How many Maher Arars will the US war on civil liberties torment before we come to our senses?

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