Wednesday, September 20, 2006
One Day After Complete Exoneration, Maher Arar Yet to Receive Apology From Canada, US for Year-Long Imprisonment, Torture in Syrian Jail
With Amy Goodman
Canada and the US are refusing to apologize to Maher Arar despite his exoneration by a Canadian government inquiry. The Syrian-born Canadian was detained nearly four years ago by U.S. authorities at JFK airport and was sent to Syria where he was jailed for a year and repeatedly tortured. Maher Arar joins us with his reaction.
"Four years ago, Maher Arar was on his way back to Canada from a family vacation in Tunisia. The Syrian-born Canadian citizen had a stopover at JFK airport in New York. After being questioned at the airport, U.S. officials took him to a New York immigration facility. Two weeks later he was secretly flown to Jordan aboard a Gulfstream Jet. Maher Arar ended up in Syria where he was held in a cell, the size of a grave. He was physically and psychologically tortured. He was forced to confess to having trained in Afghanistan -- where he has never been. He was released after a year and never charged with a crime.
On Monday, the Canadian government admitted for the first time that Arar was a completely innocent man. Justice Dennis O’Connor, who led the inquiry, said the U.S. government’s decision to send Arar to Syria was likely based on inaccurate and misleading information provided by Canadian authorities.
On Tuesday, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper acknowledged that a tremendous injustice had taken place but he declined to apologize to Arar. Maher Arar joins us now on the phone from Canada.
MAHER ARAR: Well, my question to him is very simple. I think his answer really is -- he is underestimating how smart the American people are. You know, we've seen over the past couple of years other cases where individuals have been rendered to other countries for the sole purpose of extracting information, and this information extracted under torture ended up in the hands of American authorities. Now, you know, so for him to say that we do not send -- we get assurances from people, well, you know, how do you believe?
Let's take this as a fact. We don't really know whether they actually sought assurances. But let's say, let's assume they did get assurances from the Syrians. Why would they believe the Syrians, given that the State Department on a yearly basis criticizes the human rights record in Syria? In fact, just a couple of days, if I remember correctly, after I went public about my story in November of 2003, President Bush himself clearly spoke critically of Syria. And he, if I remember the expression he used, he said Syria left its people with a legacy of torture.
Well, clearly, everyone knows that Syria has practiced torture for many years. And for them to say, 'Well, we sought assurances," I don't think is an acceptable answer. The American government and those people who are responsible for what they did to me, they should be held accountable in a court of law."
Perhaps the most important lesson Americans can learn from this incident is that torture does not work. Mr. Arrar told CNN viewers today that after severe beatings, he told his Syrian tormenters what they wanted to hear. -Molly