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.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Tale of two governments

(updated below)

Maher Arar is a computer engineer and Canadian citizen who was abducted by the U.S. Government in 2002 and sent to Syria for a year to be tortured despite having no terrorist ties of any kind. Back in September, the Canadian Government issued a report which concluded "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."

Today, this is what the Canadian Government did about this grotesque travesty:

Canada's prime minister apologized to Maher Arar on Friday and announced the government would compensate him C$10.5 million (US$8.9 million) for its role in his deportation from the U.S. to Syria, where he was tortured while held in prison for nearly a year. . . .

"On behalf of the government of Canada, I want to extend a full apology to you and Monia as well as your family for the role played by Canadian officials in the terrible ordeal that you experienced in 2002 and 2003," Harper said. Arar and his wife, Monia Mazigh, and their young son and daughter now live in Kamloops, British Columbia.

"I sincerely hope that these words and actions will assist you and your family in your efforts to begin a new and hopeful chapter in your lives," Harper said, adding the compensation package would also pay for his estimated $1 million in legal fees.

Compare that to what the Bush administration has done to Arar as he sought some small amount of justice for having been wrongfully abducted and tortured by our government for almost a year:

Two lawsuits challenging the government's practice of rendition, in which terror suspects are seized and delivered to detention centers overseas, were dismissed after the government raised the secrets privilege.

One plaintiff, Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian, was detained while changing planes in New York and was taken to Syria, where he has said he was held in a tiny cell and beaten with electrical cables. . . .

The United States never made public any evidence linking either man to terrorism, and both cases are widely viewed as mistakes. Arar's lawsuit was dismissed in February on separate but similar grounds from the secrets privilege, a decision he is appealing.

[The other case referenced there is that of Khalid El-Masri, a German citizen who alleges -- with the support of German prosecutors and the admission of the Bush administration -- 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). The case El-Masri subsequently brought in our federal courts was also dismissed after the administration invoked the "state secrets" doctrine].

Not only did the Bush administration block Mahar's efforts to seek justice in our courts for having been abducted and tortured, but they continue to keep him on the no-fly list despite the whole case having been a mistake from the beginning and despite the increasingly angry protests from the Canadian Government. TPM Muckarcker has the details behind a letter sent last week by Attorney General Gonzales to the Canadians (TPM also has the conclusory, fact-free letter itself, insisting that the administration will keep Arar on the no-fly list).

The fact that the Bush administration simply refuses to remove him is generating significant tension with the Canadians. From the AP article:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper again called on the U.S. government to remove the Ottawa telecoms engineer from any of its no-fly or terrorist watchlists and reiterated that Ottawa would keep pressing Washington to clear Arar's name.

"We think the evidence is absolutely clear and that the United States should in good faith remove Mr. Arar from the list," Harper told a news conference in Ottawa. "We don't intend to either change or drop our position."

The report issued previously by the Canadian Government also concluded:

The American authorities who handled Mr. Arar's case treated Mr. Arar in a most regrettable fashion. They removed him to Syria against his wishes and in the face of his statements that he would be tortured if sent there. Moreover, they dealt with Canadian officials involved with Mr. Arar's case in a less than forthcoming manner.

By "less than forthcoming," what the Report is referring to is the fact 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" because they knew the Canadians would object if they learned that their citizen was being sent by the U.S. to be tortured. So the Bush administration did it anyway and only told the Canadians afterwards.

Like the Jose Padilla case, it's difficult even to know what to say about this incident. I've written about it before, but one's anger is renewed each time there is a further development. There is absolutely no question that Arar is a completely innocent individual whom our government literally abducted and sent to be tortured -- for months, away from his family and everything he knew. Once this entire matter came to light, the administration simply dug its heels in further, insisting that national security required that his case be dismissed from our courts (which naturally obliged), and now -- almost out of spite and/or a pathological inability to admit error -- continues to keep him on its no-fly list.

This was the case that caused Pat Leahy to have a genuine and intense outburst of rage after Alberto Gonazles placidly recited his mindless buzzphrases to defend the administration's conduct here. It is hard to see how anyone doesn't have a similar burst of outrage when thinking about what our government has done, and continues to do, to Maher Arar (of course, the purposeful dehuminization of Arabs and Muslims allows us to not only bomb them free of any regrets, but also to subject them to treatment of this sort).

At least the Canadian Government seems to be run by people with a minimal sense of conscience and decency. The contrast with our own government, in this case at least, is depressingly glaring. A video regarding this case, including an interview with Arar, is here.

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Welcome back, Jane Hamsher, reporting great news: "my doctors . . . tell me there's no reason I can't be in Washington DC on Monday morning, Febrary 5, sitting at the Prettyman courthouse getting ready to watch Dick Cheney sweat, just like I promised." On her blog, and watching Dick Cheney sweat, is where Jane belongs.

UPDATE: Via Attaturk and C&L, the Canadian report specifically recommended that the Canadian Goverment "review their policies governing the circumstances in which they supply information to foreign governments with questionable human rights records," and specifically urged that "information should never be provided to a foreign country where there is a credible risk that it will cause or contribute to the use of torture."

One of the most infuriating apsects of the Bush presidency and all of the complicity that has enabled it is that a rational person with pride in the history and values of the U.S. no longer has any basis for objecting to characterizaions like this of our country. Those descriptions aren't the by-product of some sort of reflexive anti-American sentiment or overwrought internationalist righteousness. They are just undeniably and objectively true characterizations of what our government has done. And it is infuriating to have to accept that.

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