Rendering Unto Syria

What an outrage for the president to invoke the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in his address to the United Nations, a day after a Canadian government commission accused the U.S. of rendering a Canadian to Syria for torture. Did no one on his staff inform the president that Article 5 of that declaration explicitly states, "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment"?

For those, like Bush, who regard torture as a variant of college fraternity hazing, it would be instructive to consider the fate of Maher Arar as revealed in that devastating Canadian judicial report released on Monday. Arar, a Canadian citizen and engineer who had fled repressive Syria two decades earlier as a teenager, was seized by the FBI at JFK Airport and "rendered" to the government of Syria for nearly a year of being whipped with a "shredded electrical cable until he was disoriented"--that is, when he was not confined to his coffin-size cage.

The United States transported Arar to the very same Syria which Bush has been condemning since his first days in office, and as he did again on Tuesday, calling Syria "a crossroad for terrorism." So, will anyone in that somnambulant White House press corps dare ask the president why he would turn over a prisoner to such a government? And an innocent one at that?

Yes, innocent. On Monday, the Canadian justice who headed a 30-month investigation of this case concluded: "I am able to say categorically that there is no evidence that Mr. Arar has committed any offense." The judge employed characteristic Canadian restraint in concluding in his damning three-volume, 822-page report that "The American authorities who handled Mr. Arar's case treated Mr. Arar in a most regrettable fashion. They removed him to Syria against his wishes and in the face of his statements that he would be tortured if sent there. Moreover they dealt with Canadian officials involved with Mr. Arar's case in a less than forthcoming manner."

To put it a bit more bluntly: U.S. officials lied to their Canadian counterparts and never revealed that Arar was "rendered" to Syria precisely to be tortured.

In fact, the outsourcing of torture, as Congressman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) exposes so brilliantly on his website, has been the official and all-too-common practice of this president since 9/11. Foreign nationals have been stolen off the streets of even close democratic allies of the United States and sent to be tortured by regimes otherwise branded as fascist by this president.

Yet even the highly skilled and practiced torturers in Syria concluded that the Canadian engineer was totally innocent. Since no one in this administration has seen fit to apologize to Mr. Arar, or his government, are we to conclude that they feel the Syrian torturers failed to find evidence of guilt because they were too restrained in their techniques? We are not likely to find out if Congress and the media continue to ignore the frightening descent of this presidency into barbarism.

The epic copout behind all this, of course, is that national security after 9/11 requires the shredding of America's reputation for treating liberty as sacred. The argument is that while errors may occur when you cast a wide net--the U.S. currently is holding, according to an Associated Press report last week, more than 14,000 uncharged foreign nationals in unregulated military prisons around the world--these horrendous tactics are needed to nab the truly bad actors.

That, in effect, is the argument advanced by the president in his press conference last week defending the efficacy, indeed the necessity, of inhuman practices as proscribed in Article Three of the Geneva Convention. Burbling with his standard unwarranted optimism, Bush cited what he claimed to be the excellent results of the interrogation of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who has been held prisoner in secret locations for the past three years.

But according to the reports of the 9/11 Commission and the Senate Intelligence Committee, what has been learned from the interrogation of Khalid and other "key witnesses" is that there was nothing but enmity between bin Laden's gang and the regime of Saddam Hussein. Despite up to five years of torture, it seems that those key witnesses still did not tell the Bush administration what it wanted to hear. Perhaps they should have been rendered to some other nation with a richer tradition in such investigative techniques.


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