It is somewhat ironic that the leader in the war against terrorism has actually been convicted of state sponsored terrorism. Of course the US repudiates the new international court set up to try war crimes and insists that aid to countries be premised on excluding US troops from the court's jurisdiction.
Maher Arar, U.S. terrorism, and ‘Moral Clarity’
This post was written by peterbroady on 30 January, 2007 (00:10) |
“It is three feet wide, six feet deep and seven feet high. It has a metal door, with a small opening which does not let in light because of a piece of metal on the outside for sliding things into the cell. There is a one by two foot opening in the ceiling with iron bars. This opening is below another ceiling and lets in just a tiny shaft of light. Cats urinate through the ceiling traps of these cells, often onto the prisoners. Rats wander there too.” - description of Syrian cell of Maher Arar, innocent Canadian citizen sent for torture by U.S. government
“The U.S. government also engages in ‘extraordinary rendition.’ This Orwellian phrase describes how foreigners are grabbed off the street or from their home and secretly delivered to some other place, outside the U.S. (in Arar’s case, Syria), where illegal and brutal interrogations can take place beyond the reach of Congress and the courts.” - Amy Goodman, Seattle Post-Intelligencer
The case of Maher Arar should be familiar to anyone who has been following the U.S. “war on terror”, but it is so revealing of the irresponsibility and cruelty of the U.S. government’s largely misguided ’war’ that it bears repetition and further comment. On Thursday Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! once again told the awful, if not entirely unusual, story:
Arar’s Kafkaesque nightmare began Sept. 26, 2002. He was returning to Canada from a family vacation, with a plane change at New York’s JFK Airport. There he was pulled aside, searched, questioned and imprisoned. Two weeks later, U.S. authorities sent Arar to Syria.
Arar spent the next 10 months enduring brutal beatings and psychological torture, kept in a cell the size of a grave. Arar was accused of being connected to al-Qaida, and of having been to a training camp in Afghanistan. Neither was true, but after weeks of beatings, he admitted to everything. Worse than the beatings, Arar said on “Democracy Now!,” was how he suffered while isolated in the dank, windowless cell:
“The psychological torture that I endured during this 10-month period in the underground cell is really beyond human imagination. I was ready to confess to anything. I would just write anything so that they could only take me from that place and put me in a place where it is fit for a human being.”
As inexplicably as Arar was kidnapped to Syria, he was released home to Canada, a broken man. Canada just finished a thorough inquiry that completely exonerated him and supported his request for financial damages. Conservative Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a Bush ally, has asked Bush to “come clean” on the Arar case.
Goodman has been following the story closely on Democracy Now! for some time, and today announced that the Canadian government has paid Arar $9 million in damages and apologized for any role it might have played in his ‘extraordinary rendition’ . The officials in the U.S. government most responsible for this case have shown no signs of doing either. Senator Patrick Leahy has however questioned Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez on the case . Gonzalez claimed that “there were assurances sought that [Arar] would not be tortured from Syria,” but whether or not this is true is irrelevant, given that Syria is, in the words of president Bush, a “crossroads for terrorism”. Leahy responded with appropriate rage:
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 .
More than four months after the Canadian inquiry was able to judge categorically that Maher Arar was not a threat , and after an apology and attempts at reparation from the Canadian government, we have yet to see any admission of responsibility or expression of apology from key figures in the U.S. administration and those directly responsible for Arar’s rendition. Nor have we seen any sign that the primary leaders of the “war on terror” plan to be held accountable for secret prisons, torture, spying, and other illegal acts condemned by domestic and international law, numerous human rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, the United Nations, and their own people including many elected officials and legal scholars .
We are said to be engaged in an epic battle against terrorist enemies who hate us and want to take away our freedom . This has been only a half-truth, if that, from the beginning, and cases such as Maher Arar complicate the Manichaean picture to the point of perhaps refuting it entirely. It helps to remember also that the U.S. is and has been a major sponsor of terrorism and unlawful use of force internationally for some time. It is the only nation in history to be convicted by an international body for ‘unlawful use of force’, including state-sponsored terrorism. In the 1980s the U.S. was convicted by the International Court of Justice (The Republic of Nicaragua v. The United States of America ) for violation of international law in supporting Contra guerillas in terrorist attacks on the Nicaraguan government. In that case, among other revelations, the CIA was discovered to have written a manual for Contra guerillas instructing them in the “use of implicit and explicit terror”, and in the “selective use of violence for propaganda effects”, partly through the creation of perceived “martyrs”. The United States government refused to heed the decision of the court on a technicality and through veto power in the UN, and also refused to pay reparations .
Mentioning these crimes is not, as some would allege , smearing the United States or denying its many significant positive aspects and effects on the world. It is simply telling a revealing truth that we as a nation need to confront and grapple with, and that we cannot let ourselves or our national leaders forget. What the case of Maher Arar and the recent history of torture and defiance of international law and consensus show is that we don’t have to go back in history to find examples of the U.S. government engaging in many of the destructive acts it now condemns with such fervor and “moral clarity .” True moral clarity would acknowledge the facts and be clear and honest about our contribution to international terrorism, including even our historical role in provoking atrocities like those in New York City . None of this analysis exonerates anyone. As in our personal relationships, when we are able to take an honest look at a situation of conflict we recognize that both parties bear the burden of responsibility. This kind of honesty is, I suspect, a major contributor to better relationships personally and politically, and might be a real key to winning the real war on terror, in which we might have to ’battle with’ ourselves as well.
- Peter Broady
Peter Broady is a regular guy out of Wasilla, Alaska, who reads and writes in his spare time. He can be contacted here, at his website ‘International News and Views’, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
 for the official Canadian Commision of Inquiry statement, see ‘Reports of Events Relating to Maher Arar’ http://www.ararcommission.ca/eng/AR_English.pdf; for Goodman’s reporting, see http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=07/01/29/1453224
 For a transcript, see http://www.thestar.com/News/article/172671; for audio, see http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=07/01/19/1432225
 from Justice Dennis O’Connor of the Commision of Inquiry: “[I am] able to say categorically that there is no evidence to indicate that Mr. Arar has committed any offence or that his activities constitute a threat to the security of Canada”; see text of ‘Reports’ cited above
 I cannot recommend any one source on these diverse issues, but the Amnesty, HRW, and UN reports can be found on their respective websites, and there are plenty of books, articles, and websites addressing these topics in detail.
 The rhetoric here should be familiar to anyone who has ever listened to or read Bush speeches or is familiar with the enormous volume of punditry that basically repeats administration talking points with very little, if any, analysis. Especially revealing in this regard is William J. Bennett’s book on the “war on terror”, Why We Fight: Moral Clarity and the War on Terror
 Military and Paramilitary Activities in and against Nicaragua (Nicar. v. U.S.), Jurisdiction and Admissibility, 1984 ICJ REP. 392 June 27, 1986. http://www.icj-cij.org/icjwww/icases/inus/inus_ijudgment/inus_ijudgment_19860627.pdf
 for the record on this subject, see Nicaragua: The Making of U.S. Policy 1978-1990 http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/nsa/publications/nicaragua/nicaragua.html
 Once again there are major voices in the media and even in the academic world constantly repeating such ridiculous accusations; for a disturbing example of this, see especially the work of David Horowitz. William Bennett and other commentators make similar accusations, sometimes in a blatantly dishonest way. For example, in an short 2002 interview and debate with Noam Chomsky on American Morning with Paula Zahn, Bennett accuses Chomsky of saying ”that there is justification, moral justification, for what happened on 9/11″ very soon after a quote from Chomsky’s book 9/11 was given saying that ”nothing can justify crimes such as those of September 11″. See the transcript: http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0205/30/ltm.01.html. Horowitz, for his part, has called Chomsky “the ayatollah of anti-American hate”; see http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/ReadArticle.asp?ID=1020
 ‘Moral clarity’ here denotes oversimplifying cases by rejecting even the idea of your own responsibility or complicity and blaming everything on someone else, namely ‘terrorists’, ‘Islamic militants’, etc. See Bennett, Why We Fight
 Through support and training for early Islamic terrorist groups in Afghanistan, for example; the term ‘blowback’ can plausibly be used for Sept. 11, see Chalmers Johnson, Blowback; in the October 15, 2001 issue of The Nation Johnson made a strong statement: