The case of a Canadian citizen, Maher Arar, who was secretly sent by the USA government to Syria where he was “interrogated, tortured and held in degrading and inhumane conditions for 10 months after being falsely accused of terrorist ties” has not received a great deal of coverage in the Australian media. However, it is a fair bet that many Muslim Australians are very aware of this case. You can read an extensive outline of what happened to Maher Arar and related issues in this report in the New Yorker. Mr Arar’s ordeal has produced “an unprecedented public apology” from the head of Canada’s federal police, after his agency had asked U.S.A. customs agents to put Arar and his wife on a special watch list, calling them “Islamic extremist individuals.”
Even though it was the USA, not Canada, who secretly sent him to Syria to be tortured, no apology has been forthcoming from the USA. Indeed, despite the blatant mistakes and flagrant flaws brought to light by this case, the USA Congress has just passed new legislation which attempts to rip up legal rights stemming back to the Magna Carta, which among other things will “strip detainees of a habeas corpus right to challenge their detentions in court.” There are more details in this article, but the brief flicker of hope that the Congress would stand up to the President of the USA’s demands to be able to shred the foundations of the rule of law appear to have been extinguished.
Some more details on Mr Arar’s case from the New Yorker article are below. Remember, this is a Canadian citizen who was arrested when passing through the USA on his way back home to Canada. A case like this indicates that, when Muslims have said to me they are scared to travel overseas, it is not a victim mentality or a persecution complex that makes them feel this way. Tragically, it is simple common sense.
Ten hours after landing in Jordan, Arar said, he was driven to Syria, where interrogators, after a day of threats, “just began beating on me.” They whipped his hands repeatedly with two-inch-thick electrical cables, and kept him in a windowless underground cell that he likened to a grave. “Not even animals could withstand it,” he said. Although he initially tried to assert his innocence, he eventually confessed to anything his tormentors wanted him to say. “You just give up,” he said. “You become like an animal.”
A year later, in October, 2003, Arar was released without charges, after the Canadian government took up his cause. Imad Moustapha, the Syrian Ambassador in Washington, announced that his country had found no links between Arar and terrorism. Arar, it turned out, had been sent to Syria on orders from the U.S. government, under a secretive program known as “extraordinary rendition.”
Even people who believe in the ‘war on terror’ rhetoric and think this means ‘anything goes’ should have practical reasons for opposing this practice.
By holding detainees indefinitely, without counsel, without charges of wrongdoing, and under circumstances that could, in legal parlance, “shock the conscience” of a court, the Administration has jeopardized its chances of convicting hundreds of suspected terrorists, or even of using them as witnesses in almost any court in the world.
“It’s a big problem,” Jamie Gorelick, a former deputy attorney general and a member of the 9/11 Commission, says. “In criminal justice, you either prosecute the suspects or let them go. But if you’ve treated them in ways that won’t allow you to prosecute them you’re in this no man’s land. What do you do with these people?”
PS: The links provided in this entry were originally found through material provided by The Daily Briefing. Links to a report examining the publicly available facts about the people imprisoned by the USA at Guantanamo Bay can be found at this entry on Australia’s best blog, Barista.
This link goes to an intereview with Patrick Leahy, one of the Senators who voted against the new legislation, which passed the Senate by 65 votes to 34.
UPDATE (3/10): Just to show anything the USA can do, Australia should too, our Attorney-General has not expressed any concerns about this development. He has even helpfully suggested that sleep deprivation is not torture, which I guess made it OK when Stalin used it. This link goes to a great article from the Daily Telegraph, quoting Cyril Gilbert, an Australian Prisoner of War who was subjected to sleep deprivation by his Japanese captors during World War II. Strangely enough Mr Gilbert, having direct experience of sleep deprivation, says “If you were there for 24 hours you would have no doubt it is a form of torture.” Just as well we have Mr Ruddock as Attorney-General, and not one of those pinko, lefty ex-PoW types.