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Which Dictatorships Are We Supposed to Like?

U.S. officials delivered Arar into the hands of Assad’s torture henchmenby Jacob G. Hornberger

Don’t you sometimes wish that someone in authority in the U.S. government would explain how they determine which dictators we’re supposed to like and which ones we’re supposed to dislike?

Consider, for example, Syria. Right now, Syria is our enemy because it’s a brutal dictatorship, one that is oppressing its own people. President Obama is demanding that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad leave office. Obama has also imposed sanctions on the Syrian regime.

But wait a minute! I thought Assad was our friend. Isn’t he the dictator whose brutal henchmen tortured Canadian citizen Maher Arar at the specific request of the CIA? Isn’t the CIA an agency of the U.S. government?

I don’t get it. How did Assad go from being our friend who tortures people on our request to our enemy who needs to be sanctioned until he relinquishes power?

After all, it’s not as though Assad just recently became a brutal dictator. He assumed office in 2000, after his father had ruled the country for 29 years. That’s a long-term dictatorship!

Assad’s brutal torture of Arar took place in 2002. When U.S. officials delivered Arar into the hands of Assad’s torture henchmen, U.S. officials had to know that they were turning the man over to a dictatorship. And they also had to know that it was a brutal dictatorship. Why else would they have chosen this particular dictatorship to torture Arar?

How did the torture partnership get arranged? We don’t know because it’s still all hush-hush. We don’t know who negotiated the deal. We don’t know what the terms of the deal were. We don’t know whether President Bush or other high U.S. officials approved of the deal.

What we do know is that Arar was simply changing planes here in the United States on his way back to his home in Canada. U.S. officials waylaid him and refused to permit him to continue on his way to Canada. The CIA flew him to Europe and delivered him into the clutches of Assad’s brutal dictatorial regime — yes, the same regime that U.S. officials now say is our enemy and that must be ended due to its brutality.

The CIA says that it thought that Arar was a terrorist. But they didn’t get a warrant for his arrest from a federal magistrate. They didn’t ask a federal grand jury to indict him. They didn’t bring him to trial. They simply struck a deal with the Assad dictatorship to torture the man.

Don’t forget that Arar wasn’t kidnapped in some faraway land. He was kidnapped right here on American soil.

At the risk of asking a dumb question: If the Assad regime is so brutal now that it must be ended, why didn’t U.S. officials consider it sufficiently brutal to have wanted it ended back in 2002? Indeed, it would seem that the brutal nature of the regime was precisely what attracted it to them when they asked it to torture Arar.

Has Congress held investigatory hearings into the torture partnership between the U.S. government and the Syrian government? Nope. Hey, this is the CIA we’re talking about. No committee chairman in Congress is going to jack with the CIA, not even to ask questions on how the torture partnership between the U.S. government and the brutal Syrian dictatorship got arranged.

How about the federal courts? Aren’t they available for people who are the victims of torture or conspiracy to torture at the hands of U.S. officials? Well, theoretically, yes — that’s one of the legitimate roles of government — to provide a forum in which people who are victimized by government officials can seek relief.

But not in this case. Again, we’re dealing with the CIA, and federal judges seem to be more scared of the CIA than congressional committee chairman are. All that the CIA has to do is say to the presiding judge, “State secrets, national security, and war on terrorism, your honor,” and the presiding judge immediately starts quaking, dismisses the case, bangs down his gavel, adjourns court, and scurries back to his chambers shivering.

Thus, it’s no surprise that the federal courts threw Arar’s claim out of court without even hearing any evidence. It didn’t even make any difference to those federal judges that Arar turned out to be a totally innocent man who was brutally tortured by the Syrian dictatorship at the specific request of the U.S. government, the Syrian dictatorship’s torture co-conspirator.

Of course, back in 2002 we Americans were expected to cheer the CIA’s kidnapping and rendition of Maher Arar. We were expected to express gratitude to Syria for torturing people on our behalf as part of our “war on terrorism.”

If we objected, we were called unpatriotic, even traitors or at least people who didn’t understand that national security and our rights and freedom depended on torture partnerships with brutal dictatorships.

Little did we know at the time that we would later be expected to convert Syria from friend to enemy, and pray for the ouster of the dictator who had brutally tortured a man as part of the torture partnership that he had with our government.

Perhaps if U.S. officials would just explain the standards by which they determine these shifting alliances, we would be able to better understand how the U.S. government arrives at other such determinations, such as its support of brutal dictatorships in Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, Yemen, Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia while opposing brutal dictatorships in places like Libya and Syria.

Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of the Future of Freedom Foundation.

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