Monday, September 18, 2006

The Sad Case of Maher Arar

On September 26, 2002, Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen returning home from a vacation in Tunisia, was detained by the United States at JFK International Airport in New York. A little over a week later, he was flown to Jordan by the government of the United States. Neither his family nor the Canadian government was told where he was or what was happening to him. From Jordan, he was transported over land to Syria where he was held without charge and tortured for over a year. In the course of his detention, he confessed to everything his interrogators pressed him on.

Maher Arar was not a terrorist. He had committed no crimes. He had no affiliation with terrorist organizations.

How do we know this? Today a Canadian government commission led by Justice Dennis R. O'Connor issued its three-volume report on Arar's case. The report details errors by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and violations of international law by the United States. On the basis of erroneous information supplied by the Mounties, the United States illegally rendered Arar to Syria to be tortured and refused to permit Arar to contact his government's consulate as required by international agreements.

None of this is news. In a story that was very nearly as detailed as that produced by the Canadian government's investigation, Jane Mayer described Arar's case in the New Yorker in February 2005.

To date, Arar has not gotten as much as an apology from the United States. And, according to the New York Times, the United States government refused to cooperate with Canada's investigation of his case.

Let's hope members of the United States Senate take note of this case as they consider the Bush administration's demand that the law prohibiting torture be relaxed. And let's hope, too, that some day the United States will have the courage to authorize the equivalent of Canada's Arar Commission.