Stuck on the Terrorist Watchlist

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If you’re falsely accused of being a terrorist, what happens to you once you’re freed? It depends on what country you’re dealing with. Apparently, Canada will apologize and give you millions of dollars, but the U.S. will deny any wrongdoing and threaten to arrest you if you set foot in the country.

On Friday, Canada gave Maher Arar an $8.9 million settlement, legal fees, and an official apology for its role in his wrongful detention and torture. Canada had previously provided information which led to the United States’ 2002 arrest of Maher, a Syrian-born Canadian. Arar was renditioned to Syria, where he was tortured, forced into false confessions, and eventually released. Last year, Canada’s public inquiry cleared Arar of wrongdoing. The U.S., however, has kept Arar on its no-fly list and terrorist watchlist.

The squabble shows that “Canada and the U.S. are on fundamentally different paths when it comes to matters of terrorism and human rights,” according to the Toronto Star. But it’s not just Canada — leaders from other U.S. ally states are questioning their own involvement in the United States’ extraordinary rendition program.

Domestically, Dems are finally on the attack, asking why the Bush administration won’t admit to mistakes like Arar’s arrest — and why we’re rendering suspects to countries like Syria at all. Here’s Sen. Patrick Leahy to Alberto Gonzales at last week’s judiciary committee hearing (yup, the same one where Gonzales argued the Constitution didn’t guarantee the right of habeas corpus):

LEAHY: Why was he sent to Syria instead of Canada?…We knew damn well, if he went to Canada, he wouldn’t be tortured. He’d be held. He’d be investigated. We also knew damn well, if he went to Syria, he’d be tortured. And it’s beneath the dignity of this country, a country that has always been a beacon of human rights, to send somebody to another country to be tortured.

Gonzales dodged the question. So what’s the answer to this and other questions about Arar’s extraordinary rendition? It looks like Canadian Prime Minster Stephen Harper was correct when he said “we simply have a U.S. government that won’t admit it’s wrong.”

LISTEN: Click here to listen to Gonzales and Leahy’s exchange.

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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