The Prime Minister of Canada today apologized to Maher Arar and offered him millions in damages as compensation for the government’s role in wrongfully deporting him to Syria, where he was tortured for ten months.
The story of Maher Arar represents, to many, the darkest side of the War on Terror. Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian citizen, was arrested in JFK airport in 2002 and extradited to Syria in possible violation of U.S. law and international conventions against torture.
Alerted by Canadian officials that Mr. Arar had possible terrorist ties, the United States interrogated the telecommunications engineer and then deported him to Syria-a country from which he had fled, and a country he repeatedly begged not to be sent to. Arar’s case has become the most infamous example of a rendition policy in which the United States sends persons to other countries to be interrogated by officials who are not bound by our laws.
After coercing Arar into making several demonstrably false confessions, the Syrians eventually released him. Once back with his family in Canada, the public inquest began. The conclusions were sobering.
Canadian officials not only found that Arar had been severely tortured, but cleared him of all terrorist connections. When Canadian officials had initially reported suspicions to U.S. officials, they had done so in error.
Now Canada wants the United States to own up to its part in the debacle, but so far they’ve been disappointed.
The U.S. District Court of appeals dismissed a lawsuit on national security grounds. The United States refuses to remove Mr. Arar from its no-fly lists, because of his “personal associations and travel history.”
Arar’s lawyer says, in light of the investigation into the life of Mr. Arar, who is married to a well-respected Canadian doctor, “It sounds to me like a pretty pathetic justification.”
Attorney General Gonzales refused to explain to the U.S. Judiciary Committee why Mr. Arar was deported in this fashion and why the government continues to deny responsibility for what happened as a result. The refusal seemed to frustrate committee chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) who said, “”The Canadian government has now taken several steps to accept responsibility for its role in sending Mr. Arar to Syria. The question remains why, even if there were reasons to consider him suspicious, the U.S. government shipped him to Syria, where he was tortured, instead of to Canada for investigation or prosecution.”
Some congressmen have said that the United States should apologize for its error, but the administration seems unlikely to do that, and its position seems to be causing a serious strain in relations between the U.S. and her neighbors to the north.
Prime Minister Harper insists, “We think the evidence is absolutely clear and that the United States should in good faith remove Mr. Arar from the list. We don’t intend to either change or drop our position. . . We will not drop the matter.”