Its good to see an article such as this in a US publication. Rather neat opening too!
The U.S. owes Maher Arar an apology and more
By Robyn Blumner
Tribune Media Services
Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated:02/05/2007 12:48:54 AM MST
''On behalf of the United States, I wish to apologize to you and your family,'' President Bush told Maher Arar in a televised news conference, during which the president announced that the United States was also giving Arar $8.9 million in compensation for our role in sending the Canadian to a Syrian prison where he was tortured.
OK, now it's time to wake up from a dream. This scene happened all right, not in the United States but in Canada, and the nobly contrite politician was Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, not our own Decider-in-Chief.
Arar's ordeal is well known. The software engineer was detained during a stopover at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport in 2002. After being subject to days of interrogation in the United States, the Syrian-born Canadian was sent to Syria under the American program of extraordinary rendition. He spent 10 months in a cell the size of a grave and was tortured into signing a false confession that he was associated with terrorists and had trained in Afghanistan - a place he had never visited. He was eventually released without charge.
Since Arar's return to Canada, our neighbor to the north committed itself to investigating its role in this outrage. A two-year inquiry by Justice Dennis O'Connor concluded that there was no evidence linking Arar to terrorism, and that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were demonstrably wrong when they informed U.S. border agents that Arar was suspected of Islamic extremism. The head of the RCMP resigned over the incident.
Canada has now issued a very public apology, coming straight from its national leader, and the nation will compensate Arar for its hand in his terrifying ordeal. Harper has also promised increased oversight of Canada's intelligence agencies ''to lessen the likelihood that something like this will ever happen again.''
Arar responded to the prime minister's gesture by declaring, ''I feel proud as a Canadian.''
Before George W. Bush came to the White House I would have expected our own government to act in a very similar manner: a public apology, the rolling of heads, a promise to exert tighter controls and due compensation to the victim.
Instead, we've responded to Arar by keeping him, his wife and his children on a government watch list so that they cannot travel in or over our country or its territories. We have stymied his lawsuit against the United States for abducting and deporting him, claiming that to allow it to go forward would jeopardize state secrets. And, perhaps most galling, even though it is an open secret that we send people to other countries for interrogation where they are sure to be tortured, we continue to claim that our actions are consistent with the Convention Against Torture - a treaty that explicitly bars such conduct.
The contrast between the model of responsible and responsive governance in Canada and the sniveling, defensive, fabulizing posture of the White House and Justice Department on this matter of national character is the answer to the question: Why does the rest of the world hate us?
The Arar case is the perfect storm of Bush administration arrogance, dishonesty and incompetence coalescing with its utter disregard for the principles of due process and human rights that once were the foundation of our republic.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff claim that there is reason to keep Arar on a watch list. But when Canada's minister of public safety, Stockwell Day, examined Arar's confidential U.S. files he announced that there was ''nothing new'' to justify any continued suspicion.
Arar is a terrorist the same way our Iraq adventure is full of ''enormous successes,'' as the vice president just declared. When reality doesn't fit the script, Team Bush ignores it.
Some of our nation's more responsible political leaders have tried to act more Canada-like. Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., has called on the White House to ''admit publicly that it was cruel to detain and transfer'' Arar for torture.
And it was a moment of national pride when Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., publicly called Gonzales on the carpet at a recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for claiming that assurances were given by Syria that Arar wouldn't be tortured.
''We knew damn well if he went to Canada he wouldn't be tortured,'' Leahy declared loudly. ''He'd be held. He'd be investigated.
''We also knew damn well, if he went to Syria, he'd be tortured.''
Gonzales could only reiterate the bald-faced lie that the United States tries to meet its anti-torture treaty obligations. How lame.
When Canada is better at demonstrating American values than we are, it's time our government took a refresher in Civics 101. Learn how to apologize and admit error and maybe our great nation will live up to its billing once again.
* ROBYN BLUMNER welcomes e-mail at email@example.com.