The Bush Administration Continues to Outsource Torture to Syria, the "Axis of Evil"
Check out today's Terry Gross interview with Stephen Grey, author of Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Torture Program. We're outsourcing torture to countries with horrible human rights records:
British journalist Stephen Grey writes about security issues and Iraq. His work appears in The Sunday Times of London, The New York Times, the Guardian, and The Atlantic Monthly. He says that dozens of terror suspects are still being held in secret prisons and interrogated by the CIA despite President Bush's declaration that the CIA is no longer doing so. Grey's new book is Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Torture Program (St. Martin's Press).Read about what the U.S. government did to Maher Arar:
A Canadian citizen who has not been charged with a crime--who a Canadian judge has said does not even have a credible allegation against him--is still being barred from entering the United States. And yet we are still not outraged at the usurpation of power and disregard for basic human rights that the Bush administration brandishes in the name of homeland security?
Maher Arar is the Canadian citizen who, based on what a Canadian judge found to be unsubstantiated accusations that he was a terrorist, was detained in New York City by the U.S. government and then renditioned to Syria in 2002, where he says he was tortured for 10 months. He was finally released and was allowed to return to Canada, where a commission that examined the conditions under which he was detained concluded that "there is no evidence to indicate that Mr. Arar has committed any offense or that his activities constitute a threat to the security of Canada."
Even so, the U.S. government kept Arar from appearing Wednesday at the 30th annual Letelier-Moffitt Awards ceremony, sponsored by the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, where he and the organization that fought for his freedom, the Center for Constitutional Rights, were given the IPS International Award.
John Cavanagh, the director of the Institute for Policy Studies, said at the ceremony at the National Press Club that he wrote to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, asking him to intervene to allow Arar into the country, and got no response.
I did not fare much better when I called a Justice Department press spokesman Thursday, who referred the question to the Department of Homeland Security. "They handle the borders," said spokesman Charles Miller.
As of this writing, there was no response to my queries placed at the Department of Homeland Security. The Canadian Press news service was also unable to get substantive replies to questions about Arar. The Associated Press reports that Arar remains on a terrorist watch list. But the Commission of Inquiry into the Actions of Canadian Officials in Relation to Maher Arar formed by the Canadian government concluded that despite "extensive efforts to find any information that could implicate Mr. Arar in terrorist activities. … they found none."
So Arar was only able to address his supporters via a video. Speaking with firmness but occasionally fighting back tears, he recounted the horrors of his experience in a small, dank Syrian cell.
At his first interrogation, he said, he was asked to hold out his right palm. One of the interrogators struck it. "It was so painful that at that point I forgot every moment that I enjoyed in my life," he said.
Arar was then asked to hold out his left hand. He was struck again, and this time he felt a sharp blow to his wrist. "The pain from that hit lasted approximately six months," he said.
"Then I was asked questions, and I had to answer very quickly," he said. "Then he would begin the beatings, this time anywhere on my body."
The torture was such that he feared that he would be killed every time prison officials came to question him.
Years later, he said, "I have been suffering anxiety, constant fear and depression." But he added that he has been sustained by the global support that he has received and "the hope that one day our planet Earth will be free of torture, tyranny and injustice."
The Letelier-Moffit awards are named after former IPS staffers Orlando Letelier and Ronni Moffitt, who died in a 1976 car bombing linked to the government of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. Letelier was a Chilean diplomat and a fierce opponent of Pinochet. And therein lies the sad irony: After backing Pinochet and dismissing those who supported Letelier as fringe leftists, the United States government came around to denouncing the dictatorship and helped bring the killers of Letelier and Moffitt to justice. But today we have a White House engaging in Pinochet-style behavior to banish an innocent man from the United States, apparently for no other reason than it believes it can.
The Arar case is chilling because it shows how vulnerable we all are to being swept into the black hole of post-9/11 injustice, where the flimsiest of accusations can be used to ship us to places where we can be tortured and where we have no way to even know the basis of the accusations against us, much less fight them. Further, the decision by our government to continue to keep Arar out of the United States, in the shadow of President Bush's signing this week of a Military Commissions Act that guts the basic constitutional right of habeas corpus , continues the torture--emotionally, if not physically--that Syria started at the behest of the United States. That neither our president nor anyone in his cabinet--nor, for that matter, much of our political leadership in either party--thinks this is a big deal means that the people who "hate our freedoms" are not beyond our shores but are right on Pennsylvania Avenue. And we had better be fighting them here.