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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Here is the "moral authority" of the U.S. under the Bush administration

(updated below)

For the last four years, the United States has been (and still is) a country which kidnaps other countries' innocent citizens (including those of its own allies); brings them to Jordan, Syria and Egypt to be tortured (sometimes for as long as a year); lies to its allies about what it is doing with their citizens; and then, when the innocent citizens are finally released and they go to an American court to try to obtain compensation from the U.S. government for their disappearance and torture, the Bush administration tells the federal judge that the case must be summarily dismissed because national security would be harmed if the administration were held accountable in a court (and the courts then comply).

Do any other counties in the world kidnap civilians who are citizens of other countries and torture them? The case of Maher Arar -- a Canadian citizen abducted by the U.S. and sent to Jordan for a year to be tortured depsite having no terrorist ties of any kind -- is receiving substantial attention today because a Canadian government commission issued a report which "say(s) categorically that there is no evidence to indicate that Mr. Arar has committed any offense or that his activities constituted a threat to the security of Canada." The report also blasts the Bush administration, which abducted Arar during a layover at JFK airport when he was flying home to Canada from a vacation in Tunisia:

On Oct. 8, he was flown to Jordan in an American government plane and taken overland to Syria, where he says he was held for 10 months in a tiny cell and beaten repeatedly with a metal cable. He was freed in October 2003, after Syrian officials concluded that he had no connection to terrorism and returned him to Canada. . . .

Evidence presented to the commission, said Paul J. J. Cavalluzzo, its lead counsel, showed that the F.B.I. continued to keep its Canadian counterparts in the dark even while an American jet was carrying Mr. Arar to Jordan. The panel found that American officials “believed — quite correctly — that, if informed, the Canadians would have serious concerns about the plan to remove Mr. Arar to Syria.”

Mr. Arar arrived in Syria on Oct. 9, 2002, and was imprisoned there until Oct. 5, 2003. It took Canadian officials, however, until Oct. 21 to locate him in Syria. The commission concludes that Syrian officials at first denied knowing Mr. Arar’s whereabouts to hide the fact that he was being tortured. It says that, among other things, he was beaten with a shredded electrical cable until he was disoriented.

By no means is Arar the only individual to be subjected to this barbaric, lawless behavior by the Bush administration. I wrote about several such cases -- including Arar's -- in this post from May, in which I argued that these incidents "provide a thorough picture of what the U.S. is becoming, and has become, under the Bush administration."

That post focused on what the Bush administration did to compel dismissal of a lawsuit brought by Khalid El-Masri, a German citizen who alleges -- with the support of German prosecutors -- that the U.S. Government abducted him, drugged him, flew him to multiple different torture-using countries (and shuttled him at least to Kabul, Baghdad, and Skopje, Macedonia) as part of the administration's "rendition" program, only to then release him after five months when the U.S. realized it had abducted the wrong person (El-Masri has a name similar to a suspected terrorist). There is no dispute about El-Masri's complete innocence:

This year, German investigators confirmed most of Masri's allegations, which have received extensive publicity in Europe. In December, during a joint news conference with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Rice had admitted the mistake.

But as courts almost always do, the Federal Judge in El-Masri's case deferred to the administration's "state secrets" claim and dismissed the lawsuit, even as the judge said: "all fair-minded people . . . must also agree that [Masri] has suffered injuries as a result of our country's mistake and deserves a remedy.''

The administration did the same thing in the case of Arar -- when he sued for damages as a result of being wrongfully kidnapped and tortured by the U.S. Government, the Bush administration argued that "state secrets" compelled the court to dismiss the case, and the federal judge deferred to the President's wishes. And then there is the case of Mustafa Osama Nasr, who was abducted by the CIA off the streets of Milan and flown to Egypt to be tortured, which prompted Italian prosecutors to issue arrest warrants for the 13 CIA officers responsible for this kidnapping within Italy.

So on top of operating secret torture gulags in Eastern Europe, we also kidnap people, charge them with no crime, give them no opportunity to defend themselves, deny them contact with their consulate in violation of international treaties (as the Canadian report complained about), send them off to be tortured for months, and then when it turns out that they are completely inncoent, we block them from obtaining compensation in our courts because our Government claims that national security would be jeopardized if they were held accountable for their behavior.

How can you be an American citizen and not be completely outraged, embarrassed, and disgusted by this conduct? What the Bush administration is doing on so many levels is a grotesque betrayal of every national value and principle we have always claimed to embrace and for which we have fought, and which we claim we are defending as part of our current "war".

Can it even be debated at this point that the Bush administration has so plainly, as Billmon described it the other day, "forfeit(ed) forever its ability to chastise the human rights abuses of others without triggering a global laughing fit"? Who would ever take seriously the notion that a Government that engages in this behavior can lecture anyone on human rights abuses or import democratic values around the world?

And how much more potent of a case could there be to underscore the point that being detained by the Bush administration. or being accused by them of being a terrorist, does not mean that someone is a terrorist -- a most basic logical axiom which Bush followers constantly violate because the media allows them to? Advocating minimal due process protections for military commissions before people are executed for being "terrorists" cannot honestly be described as "giving rights to terrorists" because they are not terrorists solely by being accused -- and anyone who describes it as such is engaged in deceit and distortion, not "framing" techniques or political spin. The same is true of oppositing torture ("advocating terrorist rights"), warrantless eavesdropping ("opposing spying on terrorists") and every other related debate -- conflating accusations of terrorism with being a terrorist is not political advocacy but outright dishonesty and the media has the responsibility to describe it as such.

It's nice that Colin Powell and John McCain have objected to a few of the more grotesque excesses, but Democrats have to stop being invisible and afraid of having this debate. If we are going to fundamentally change the type of country we are -- as the Bush administration is well down the path of doing -- then that ought to be something that gets decided by an election after a full and explicit debate.

Do Americans want to be a country that kidnaps people without charges, tortures them, lies to its allies about it, and then, when it turns out they were completely innocent, blocks the Government officials who are responsible from being held accountable? That's the country we've become under this administration and its blindly loyal servants in Congress.

UPDATE: In Comments, DcLaw1 highlights what may actually be the most important part of this story, from the Washington Post article: In Jordan, Arar "was beaten, forced to confess to having trained in Afghanistan -- where he never has been -- and then kept in a coffin-size dungeon for 10 months before he was released, the Canadian inquiry commission found." What is there to say about that? Or about people (such as the President) who want to do more of that?

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