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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Remember When Everyone Thought Torture was Evil?

The case of Maher Arar is making some headlines in the US. Arar is a canadian man picked up by the US during a layover at JFK on his way back from vacation in Tunisia. Arar was, without evidence, shipped off to Syria to be tortured under a program known as 'extraordinary rendition'. Democracy Now! has Arar's ordeal in his own words:

Really, I mean, when I arrived there, I just couldn't believe it. I thought first it was a dream. I was crying all the time. I was disoriented. I wished I had something in my hand to kill myself, because I knew I was going to be tortured, and this was my preoccupation. That's all I was thinking about when I was on the plane. And I arrived there. I was crying all the time. So, one of them started questioning me, and the others were taking notes. And the first day it was mainly routine questions, between 8 to 12.

And the second day, that's when the beatings started, because, you know, on the first day they did not find anything strange about what I told them. And they started beating me with a cable, electrical threaded cable, and they would beat me for three, four times. They would stop again, and they would ask questions again, and they always kept telling me, “You are a liar,” and things like that. So, the beating continued for the first two weeks. The most -- the most intensive -- the intensive beating was really the first week, and then after that it was mostly slapping, punching on the face and kicking.

So, on the third day when they didn't find anything, third or fourth day, they -- in my view, they just wanted to please the Americans, and they had to find something on me. So, because I was accused of being an al-Qaeda member, which is nowadays synonymous with Afghanistan, they told me, “You've been to a training camp in Afghanistan.” And I said, “No.” And they started beating me. And I said -- well, I had no choice. I just wanted the beating to stop. I said, “Of course, I've been to Afghanistan.” I was ready to confess to anything just to stop the torture.

Maher Arar tells us that his suffering hasn't ended with his release:

I’m completely a different person. I still have fears. I don't take the plane anymore. I don't fly. I lost confidence in myself. I feel overwhelmed. My -- there is some kind of emotional distancing between me and my kids and my family. They ruined my life. They ruined my life, and I have not been able to find a job. People try to -- you know, some people I know, they try to distance themselves from me. It's -- you know, I don't know how to describe it. I don't think there is any word I could use to describe what I am going through. And I thought when I came back it would take me a month or two months or a year or two years to get back to normal life. It’s been two years and four months since I came back to Canada, and there are things that are improved a little bit, but I’m still not the same person, and I’m still suffering psychologically.

Arar was found innocent by a canadian court yesterday. "Mr. Arar has been done a tremendous injustice," Prime Minister Stephen Harper told the House of Commons. "The government has received this report that has a series of recommendations... The government will act swiftly based on those recommendations."

It has been recomended that Canada "register a formal objection with the governments of the United States and Syria concerning their treatment of Mr. Arar and Canadian officials involved with his case."

In the US, however, the right seems to have been taken over, to a certain degree, by big torture fans. Oddly, the religious right has weighed in in favor of torture. From Associated Press:

Republican Sen. John McCain's standoff with the White House over treatment of detainees _ an issue the former POW knows intimately well _ threatens to exacerbate his already contentious relationship with conservatives.

"Maverick status is looked upon as a strength in Congress, but a maverick in the White House is not looked upon with great admiration from our folks," Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said Monday.

"Politically, this isn't wise," added the Rev. Louis Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition, which supports the president's call for Congress to approve tough interrogation techniques for terrorism suspects.

"Who would Jesus attack with dogs?" might be a good question to ask these idiots. Other opinions have been as ridiculous. Columnist Jim Kouri writes, "Senator McCain is stubbornly refusing to define the term 'torture' leaving US interrogators wondering what techniques they are permitted to use in order to extract information from terrorists. He speaks of moral highground, but doesn't mention that his sanctimonious 'moral highground', although playing well in the newsrooms of the New York Times, may cost some Americans their lives because interrogators weren't aggressive enough in getting information that proves valuable in thwarting attacks on the US."

You have to wonder what it is about the definition of torture that Kouri finds so confusing. His bio shows a career in law enforcement, most of it as an executive, so you have to wonder how he got so far without having any idea what constitutes acceptable treatment of suspects.

We wind up making arguments for and against torture. We make fine distinctions between abuse and 'alternative interrogation techniques', as if the question were entirely semantic. We pretend to be confused about what torture even is, when we've never had that problem before.


Here's what I think of those who favor torture of terrorist suspects -- they are, to a man, cowards. They have no principles, no morals, only a concern for themselves and their safety. They are the same fools who'd throw out all of our rights to 'protect our freedom', while either forgetting or willfully ignoring the fact that, with every right we lose, we become less free. They don't stand for the principles of freedom and liberty -- no matter how easily those words spill out of them when you poke them. They'd rather live as prisoners than expose themselves to even the slightest risk of dying as free people.

And the risk is slight. You stand more chance of being hit by lightning than dying in a terrorist attack.

They can argue that torture makes us safer, but how safe can you be said to be when your government can whisk you off to a secret prison for an indefinite period of abuse and human rights outrages? And do it without any trial or any appeal. Once you get your finger caught in that secret prison machine, you literally enter into a lawless system in which you have no rights at all. Think about it -- there is nothing to prevent this from happening to pretty much anyone. No safeguards, no oversight. How safe does that make you?

Not long ago, Keith Olbermann broadcast from Ground Zero and he quoted Edward R. Murrow -- "Remember that we are not descended from fearful men." But fearful men are trying to drag us backward to what we threw off over two hundred-thirty years ago. Fearful men won't save us -- they don't lead, they retreat. In our present case, they want to escape back to oppression and injustice and a brutality unsuited to the world's oldest democracy.

Heroes don't torture. Panicked idiots do. I can't think of any story of any person we've admired that includes the phrase 'and then the hero tortured'. The Gestapo weren't admirable.

The only way we can continue as a nation of free people is to lose the fearful men. Fearful men aren't free and only free people are fit to lead free people. Cowardice is a tyrant who makes slaves of us all.


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Doctor_Spankenstein said...

Well said!

Anonymous said...

Great post, I agree with everything you said.

Anonymous said...

But is it the lawmakers who are fearful, or are they only using the fears of the general populace for their own advantage?

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why he was picked up, though. Is it because of his appearance?

Anonymous said...

Good story and all, but "world's oldest democracy"?

I think that title still belongs to the old Athenian democracy, never mind whether you mean 'earliest recorded' or 'longest lasting'.

Andy Dabydeen said...

Very well written post. What has happened to America?

will said...

no mention that it was Canada that suggested that he be picked up?

US did the rendition, Canada placed the accusation and then let it's citizen rot for 2 years.. What happened to Canada?

BenMerc said...

Isn't it amazing how one day we are sending people off to be tortured in Syria, and the next day we are warning them (Syrians) not to associate with the likes of Hezbollah.

I know this strays a bit from your piece, but it is yet another aspect of our hypocrisy, in the middle east. It goes back to the routinely asked dumb-ass "why do they hate us?" question. Which inevitably gets spun into: "They hate us for our freedoms!" So we bomb the hell out of them, then establish more freedom to torture again. Now that’s a solid foreign policy for you. Someone said it above, what has happened to America? Great post Griper, and I remember that DN! piece, it was disturbing to say the least.

"Mr. Arar has been done a tremendous injustice,"

And not to let Canada off the hook, "tremendous" probably somewhat shy of the injustice committed Mr. Harper, let’s say it just scratches the surface.

Life Rant said...

Got a family? Young children? Wife?

I doubt it.

I don't know what the hell it will take to wake you people up.

Jessica said...

BenMerc, one thing: I am no fan of Stephen Harper's, don't get me wrong, but it's unfair to blame him for Arar's initial rendition to American officials. This is because the Arar affair started before Harper's Conservatives came to power in January, 2006. It's just that the inquiry results only came out today.
Other than that, I agree: "who would Jesus attack with dogs?" is a beyond-ridiculous question for citizens of a liberal democracy to be asking themselves. But hey, I'm just a pawn, my answer depends on how frightened I am. So it's up to our friendly elected officials to maintain the appropriate level of fear -- low enough that I can go to work and continue to consume and power the economy, but high enough that I'll vote Rethuglican whenever I'm told to. Perfect.

BenMerc said...

I know he was not even in power at the time, but it is the hollow promise and phony hand on the back these figure heads represent. It is not so much the politics, but as you mention the system and culture of fear our governments represent. I mean in the end they are the extention of us, at least that's how it used to work, their jobs were really about being a service for the people, in many ways. At any rate, even a "heartfelt" (photo op?) apology does not get it in some cases.

Bret said...

Oh, Griper...
I understand your intent, but again, its shortsighted. Is this the better alternative?

I'll tell you what - we'll take the sole testimony of this one man, where that is the only evidence, and place it next to the multitude of cases in which beheadings, forced conversions at gunpoint, and suicide and roadside bombs from "the other side".

Really, is there any comparison?

John said...


And bacon is healthy compared with pure lard. Because that part of the world hasn't valued human life since the dawn of civilization doesn't excuse our own excesses. We're supposed to be better than that. We're supposed to be the greatest nation on Earth. It's time we acted that way again.

BenMerc said...

John and Bret...

Both you guys need to study...really study world history a bit more. The wonderful "west" just sixty-five years ago started and ended the most brutal idological and physically destructive of wars known in human history. I do not need to go into the details, but when you make statements as: " Because that part of the world...and on and on (we, (Americans,that includes others in the west as the context is used in general these days) don't do those kind of things...etc..." or "Really is there any comparison"
Well, yeah, hundreds of years worth of degrading human behavior.

Yes, we "America" has at some point strove beyond, pulled our society up, saved the world, set the highest standards...All that and more...But it has not always been so, as even recent records of events have their dark spots. And as you point out we have strayed from our better side, our positive side. This certainly is a worth while goal: " It's time we acted that way again" I could not agree with you more, and we do have the history that also proves it.

When extremist on both sides of a conflict are in power, it is certainly up to the rank and file of society not to engage in depreciation, or be swayed by base propagandas and applied hysteria. I think there are rational persons on both sides of this issue/conflict, and they will continue to be ignored by the powers that be, so that they may reign as such, and it is our place to change that situation.

There is much ignorance and poverty through out that (ME) region, we have become the brunt of the dispair, mostly through poor leadership and greed all around. This lopsided arrangement occurs through our needs (oil) with the greed and dogmas of the ruling classes in the Middle East. Study the whole Saudi relationship with our leaders and industry captains over the past fifty or so years, it is a facinating story and on going.

There are many, as a generation of Middle Easterners are ready and willing to break from some of the old ways. Certainly not all, if you really know anything about many of the great civilizations that have sprug from that region, there is a GREAT WISEDOM to be found also.

This condition can not be summed up in any venue in a few paragraphs or pages, and myopic emotional response adds little if any reason or understanding to this current crisis. We all need to step back, gather our thoughts, know what we as individuals stand for and expect from our fellow Americans and global neighbors.

Education, common sense and human compassion are some (with many others) of the tools and values we should employ at this time. America has the guns and guts stuff more then covered: To be applied when absolutly necessary. We have a great tradition of warrior/hero in our American heritage, but have allowed this current domestic and foreign leadership to disgrace it's effort and cause. Those that have currently given their lives have buddies that are now back in the states, running for elective office, go check them out and what their take is on all this, they have had more at stake then most.

Wisco said...


Why does everything always after be a either one thing or the other? What is it with the right that they come up with one alternative and stop thinking?

'Either we torture suspects or they cut our heads off' isn't isn't even a remotely logical argument. What is it with the inability of the right to think in 3D?

It's not just 'one man's testimony'. The Canadian government, which as has been pointed out shares some of the blame here, has determined that Arar was innocent.

Remember that whenever Bush talks about his 'alternative interrogation techniques', he's always careful to use the term 'terrorist suspects.' In other words, we don't know for sure whether these people are innocent or not.

Clearly, the administration doesn't care much, either. What's it finally going to take before you hardliners finally realize that Bush is completely out of control?

Sometimes I think that if Bush ate a live baby at a press conference, you wouldn't have to go far to find someone on the right willing to argue that babies need to be eaten.

And, did I mention that ou stand more chance of being hit by lightning than dying in a terrorist attack?

Why, yes I did. Oddly, no one's proposing we give up any of our rights to protect us from the deadly threat of lightning.

Clearly, the wisest course of action would be to declare martial law every time a thunderstorm rolls through.

Anonymous said...

That was a beautiful piece.
This should be read in schools.

Freudian Slip said...

How terrible. Wow.

They knew they had to give the American's something, to make them happy? Unbelievable.

Thanks for sharing.