Tuesday, September 19, 2006


I've written a little about Maher Arar before. He's a Canadian citizen who was detained by U.S. authorities in 2002 as he transferred through JFK, and rendered to Syria where he was held and tortured for over ten months.

A Canadian government inquiry has concluded that Arar was falsely accused, and that Arar was detained and delivered to Syria for interrogation on the basis of bad information passed to U.S. authorities by Canadian intelligence sources.
Canadian police opened a file on Arar after seeing him talking to two other Muslim Canadians they were watching, authorities have acknowledged. Arar insisted the men were casual acquaintances in the small Muslim community in Montreal, where he lived before moving to British Columbia.

O'Connor said Monday that police agents told the Americans that Arar was "suspected of being linked to the al Qaeda movement." The judge concluded: "The RCMP had no basis for this description."

The Mounties also falsely claimed Arar had refused to be interviewed and had "suddenly" left for Tunisia. It listed him as a business associate of another man they called a "Bin Laden associate." Those descriptions were "either completely inaccurate" or overstated his casual connections, O'Connor said in an 822-page, three-volume report.

That information "very likely" led to his rendition, the report said. U.S. officials refused to cooperate with the Canadian inquiry.

Cavalluzzo said the Canadian agents apparently operated without proper training. "The best one can say is that it was sheer incompetence. They did not appreciate the fact that the branding of someone as a 'target' or 'suspect' or 'Islamic extremist' to Americans in 2002 could lead to disastrous consequences."

After Arar was detained in New York, Canadian authorities apparently were unaware the Americans were preparing to send him to Syria, according to the commission finding.

The RCMP contact, Inspector Michel Cabana, "was under the impression that Mr. Arar would only be detained for a short time," O'Connor's report said. "In his view, Mr. Arar was being held in a country with many of the same values as Canada."

This is shameful and disgusting in so many ways. First, there's the obvious: An innocent man, a husband and father, was taken from his family and tortured because Dick Cheney wanted to take a walk on the dark side. There's the jaw-dropping hypocrisy of George W. Bush condemning the Syrian government for its lack of freedom and democracy with one hand, while delivering people there to be tortured with the other. And then there's the very possible, even probable, outcome that foreign intelligence services will now be less likely to share information about terror suspects with the U.S. out of the reasonable fear that their citizens will be snatched up and spirited away to some dungeon without even the faintest whiff of due process.

I wonder if President Bush even realizes how, with stories like Arar's spreading through the Middle East, his talk of freedom is perceived, at best, as darkly comic. I seriously doubt it.

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