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Let’s Not Forget the Torture Partnership with Syria

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Mahar Ararby Jacob G. Hornberger

Among the many Middle East dictatorships that are rounding up, incarcerating, torturing, and killing protestors and demonstrators is the one in Syria, which has long been recognized as one of the most brutal and oppressive regimes in the region. President Obama has condemned the “abhorrent violence committed against peaceful protesters by the Syrian government today and over the past few weeks.”

Unfortunately, however, Obama failed to condemn the violence that the Syrian regime inflicted some ten years ago against a Canadian man at the request of the U.S. government.

Thankfully, the Syrian dictatorship isn’t among the several Middle East dictatorships that the U.S. government has long funded, as it has with the brutal dictatorships in Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. However, in 2002 the U.S. government did partner with the Syrian dictatorship. The partnership involved the U.S. government’s use of the Syrian government’s torture talents, which were employed against an innocent Canadian man named Mahar Arar.

Arar, a a 32-year-old Canadian telecommunications engineer, was returning to Canada from a vacation in Tunisia. He was switching planes in New York when U.S. officials took him into custody and labeled him a terrorist.

Denying his request for an attorney (he was falsely told that only American citizens have a right to an attorney), U.S. officials held Arar in solitary confinement and interrogated him for almost two weeks. Unable to secure a confession from him, they decided to rendition him to Syria rather than charge him with a criminal offense. The hope was that the Syrian dictatorship would torture Arar into confessing to being a terrorist.

Why Syria? For the same reason that the U.S. government entered into a torture partnership with the military dictatorship in Egypt: U.S. officials knew that these two regimes were renowned for their expertise at torturing people. They were certain that their Syrian torture partner would be able to torture Arar into confessing the truth.

Arar was kept in the custody of the Syrian brutes for a year, during which time he was brutally tortured. Upon his release, the Canadian government, which had provided inaccurate information about Arar to U.S. officials, conducted an official investigation that exonerated him of any terrorism charges. The Canadian government paid him a settlement and apologized.

Not so with the U.S. government, however. It denied any wrongdoing. U.S. officials claimed that they weren’t really renditioning Arar to Syria for the purpose of torture. Instead, they claimed, they were simply deporting him to a country in which he held dual citizenship. Never mind that they could have deported him to nearby Canada, the other country in which he held dual citizenship, where he was headed when they intercepted him changing planes in New York.

Arar sued the U.S. government for what they did to him. Unfortunately, he was never able to take the testimony of U.S. officials under oath, under penalty of perjury, because the federal courts dismissed his suit. Their ground? The judicially created “state secret doctrine.” The prosecutors alleged that if people were to find out the details of what they did to Arar, the national security of the United States would be threatened. While that position obviously puts the lie to the deportation claim, the federal court of appeals upheld the district court’s summary dismissal of the case, and the Supreme Court refused to consider Arar’s appeal.

Moreover, Congress has never seen fit to hold an official investigation into what the executive branch did to Arar. No hearings. No subpoenas. No testimony.

Who negotiated the torture deal with Syria? What was the role of the CIA in all this? Was President Bush apprised of the deal? Did he sign off on it? Was the torture agreement put into writing and, if so, who were the signatories? Who else have they done this to?

We don’t know, and our government doesn’t want us to know. All they want us to know is that the U.S. government is an exceptional government, one that is kind, good, compassionate, caring, and benevolent, one that loves democracy. Any facts that contradict that fairy tale, such as support of brutal dictatorial regimes in the Middle East or entry into nasty little torture partnerships with brutal dictatorial Middle East regimes, are to be stricken from the mindsets of the American people.

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


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