Innocent Man Rendered to Syria, Held and Tortured for One Year (Blame Canada?)


Closing (well, except for the well-deserved lawsuits I presume) another dark chapter in the war on terror, Canadian citizen Maher Arar has been completely cleared by a Canadian judicial commission. In a 822-page report, the commission, lead by Justice Dennis O’Connor, ripped the Mounties apart for giving U.S. authorities erroneous and inflammatory “evidence” against Arar, which led to his being detained during a stopover in JFK airport, rendered to Syria, where he was held and tortured for one year.

And let’s be clear what we mean by torture here. This isn’t just sleep deprivation. This is a Canadian computer consultant returning from a family vacation who, with no ability to access the “evidence” against him, gets bundled off to Syria and beaten with electrical cables.

Arar, a 31-year-old computer consultant and Canadian citizen, was en route from Zurich to Montreal to attend to business following a family vacation in Tunisia, according to a lawsuit he filed against U.S. officials in 2004. He was standing in line waiting to pass immigration inspection when an immigration officer asked him to step aside to answer some questions.

As FBI agents, immigration officials and NYPD officers questioned Arar, he asked to consult an attorney. U.S. officials told Arar that only U.S. citizens had the right to a lawyer and locked him up in the Metropolitan Detention Center in New York City, where he endured more interrogation about his friends, the mosques he attended, his letters and e-mails. U.S. officials then demanded that he “voluntarily” agree to be sent to Syria, where he was born, instead of home to Canada (Arar holds dual citizenship). Arar refused, according to Amnesty International, explaining that he was afraid he would be tortured in Syria for not completing his military service. After more than a week in detention, U.S. authorities determined that Arar was “inadmissible” to the United States based on secret evidence and notified him that he would be deported to Syria.

They took him to New Jersey in the middle of the night and loaded him onto a small plane that stopped in Washington, D.C., and then Rome before proceeding to Jordan. Local authorities in Jordan chained and beat Arar, bundled him in a van and drove him across the border to Syria, where Arar was beaten with electrical cables, interrogated about his acquaintances and beliefs, and kept in a tiny cell for months at a time.

The full O’Connor report is not available (due to, you guessed it, security concerns), but news reports indicate that basically after 9/11 the RCMP not only saw terrorists behind every tree but then passed on raw intelligence that had not been analyzed for accuracy to the even more hot-headed U.S. intelligence forces. Via the Globe and Mail:

“The Mounties, the report continues, should have flagged the material as being from unproven sources and should have taken precautions to make sure it was not used in U.S. deportation proceedings…

U.S. officials refused to testify at the Canadian inquiry. But the report says it “is very likely” they relied on the faulty RCMP intelligence when they decided to send Mr. Arar to Syria, the country of his birth, rather than home to Canada.

“The RCMP provided American authorities with information about Mr. Arar which was inaccurate, portrayed him in an unfair fashion and overstated his importance to the investigation,” the report says. “The RCMP had no basis for this description, which had the potential to create serious consequences for Mr. Arar in light of American attitudes and practices” at that time, the report says.

The Mounties also erroneously told the Americans Mr. Arar was in the Washington area on Sept. 11, 2001, when, in fact, he was in San Diego.

When Arar got back, the Mounties mounted a smear campaign against him…Boy, this all sounds so familiar.

The O’Connor report also calls for the further independent investigation of the cases of three other Canadian Muslim men—Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El Maati and Muyyed Nurredin —who were likewise rendered and claim to have been tortured.

These are just some of the cases we know about. God knows how many we don’t. McCain, Graham, Warner, and Powell (and now George Shultz!) are all absolutely correct, when we indulge in barbarous behavoir, we can expect more of the same. We may be on the receiving end of some no matter how well we act, but that’s not the point. The point is what kind of example do we want to set? To other nations and peoples, and to our own children.

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