The Maher Arar case is very disturbing, although the callous cynicism of Team Bush that it appears to reveal can hardly be a surprise at this point.
The key allegations are:
- Arar, a dual Syrian-Canadian national, was transiting through a US airport on his way to Canada when he was stopped by US officials who believed him to be a terrorist, or in cahoots with terrorists.
- The US government held him virtually incommunicado for days. Then it let him meet the Canadian consul — once. And a lawyer — once, for thirty minutes.
- At some point before or after those meetings, one or more hearings relating to where Arar would be sent were held without giving Arar or his lawyer notice or an opportunity to be heard.
- Acting AG Larry Thompson sent Arar to Syria, over his expressed desire to be sent to Canada, in circumstances where Thompson knew or should have known that Arar would be tortured.
- And Arar was tortured by Syrian intelligence for more than ten months.
In short, the claim is that the US arranged for Arar to be tortured via an extraordinary rendition. Presumably because the Ba'athist Syrian intelligence has been very cooperative in the war on (religious) terror.
But you see, that claim is really very unfair. The US didn't arrange for the Syrians to torture anyone. No, no, a thousand times no. In fact, the US got the Syrians to promise that they wouldn't torture Arar. And the Justice Department not only believed those assurances then, they believe them today! The Syrians would never torture a suspected al Queda member when they had promised us they wouldn't. Or, at least, it was certainly reasonable of the good, honest, acting Attorney General to rely on the Syrians' assurances, for we well know that they are a nation firmly committed to the Rule of Law.
According to the Washington Post, the US government position is that (1) Arar deserved it (“when apprehended at the airport, Arar had the names of 'a large number of known al Qaeda operatives, affiliates or associates' in his wallet or pockets.”) and (2) “the removal of Mr. Arar was accomplished after interagency consultation and in full compliance with the law and with all relevant international treaties and conventions.” Among which are several prohibitions on torture. And then, of course, (3) this jem, from another article in the Washington Post,
U.S. officials said yesterday that they decided to send a Syrian-born Canadian citizen to Syria last year only after the CIA received assurances from Syria that it would not torture the man.
Maher Arar, recently freed from prison, said he pleaded with U.S. authorities not to send him to Syria precisely because he believed he would be tortured. Arar has said he was tortured with cables and electrical cords during his 10-month imprisonment.
U.S. law strictly prohibits sending people — even on national security grounds — to a country where it is likely they will be tortured. Yesterday, a Justice Department spokesman confirmed that the Syrian assurances allowed them to legally send Arar to Syria.
Syrian has said it did not torture Arar. “We welcome statements by the Syrian Embassy, as it is fully consistent with the assurances the U.S. government received prior to his removal” from the United States, the Justice Department spokesman said.
In a Nov. 7 speech, President Bush said Syria has left its people “a legacy of torture, oppression, misery and ruin.” Spokesmen at the Justice Department and the CIA declined to comment on why they believed the Syrian assurances to be credible.