Sunday, January 28, 2007

oops, our bad

Just as the U.S. government outsources torture to shady regimes, I’m outsourcing this post to Hilzoy:

Today, the Canadian Prime Minister apologized to Maher Arar:

"Prime Minister Stephen Harper formally apologized Friday to Maher Arar for the torture he suffered in a Syrian prison and said the government would pay him and his family $10.5-million, plus legal fees, to compensate them for the "terrible ordeal."

"On behalf of the government of Canada, I wish to apologize to you ... and your family for any role that Canadian officials may have played in the terrible ordeal that all of you experienced in 2002-2003," Mr. Harper said in a letter to Mr. Arar.

Hilzoy determines that Canada’s culpability in this affair is based on the fact that they (1) provided bogus information to the U.S. government that Arar was a security threat and then (2) did not pressure the U.S. government to get him released as firmly as they could have. After the Canadian government learned of its error, it conducted an exhaustive investigation into Canada's role in the matter which was capped by a personal apology from the leader of the country and an award of $10.5 million dollars to compensate Arar for his suffering.

Hilzoy continues:

We, by contrast, actually detained him and shipped him off to Syria, where he was kept in a three foot by six foot underground cell and tortured for ten months. Unlike the Canadian government, we have not initiated an investigation of how we ended up shipping an innocent engineer off to be tortured in Syria. To my knowledge, no one has resigned. We have not apologized, nor have we made any effort at all to help Mr. Arar put his life back together after we broke it apart.

. . .

Here's what Alberto Gonzales had to say after the Canadian government's report appeared:

. . .

Some people have characterized his removal as a rendition. That is not what happened here. It was a deportation. And even if it were a rendition, we understand as a government what our obligations are with respect to anyone who is rendered by this government to another country, and that is that we seek to satisfy ourselves that they will not be tortured. And we do that in every case. And if in fact he had been rendered to Syria, we would have sought those same kind of assurances, as we do in every case.

So, in other words, we didn’t formally send him to Syria for the explicit purpose of having information extracted from him by torture, information which the Syrian government (our sworn enemies on Mondays, Wednesdays, and every other Friday) would then relay back to us (and we would do what with, exactly? . . . since we trust Syria so completely). No, we simply deported him like we would deport any Mexican who overstayed his visa or snuck over the border, but if he just happened to fall into the hands of the Syrian government, and just happened to be brutally tortured for 10 months, well then, that certainly wasn’t something we had anything to do with.

It strikes me that an easy way to deny conducting extraordinary renditions is to use the ample discretion available in the immigration system to deport someone to a country where they are likely to be tortured, ignoring our obligations under the Convention Against Torture and other treaties. The effect is the same as a formal rendition, but you avoid the bad press surrounding the term “rendition” and you don’t have to go through the process of procuring assurances from the government to which you are sending the person that they will not torture him. Since the immigration "judges" are part of the executive branch anyway, it's not that hard to get away with.

Hilzoy isn’t happy.

Think about this. We kidnap one of their citizens and send him off to be tortured. We refuse to admit that there was anything wrong with what we did. We won't allow him to enter the US or to fly over it, and we won't clear his name. When Canada rather understandably protests, some genius in Washington orders our ambassador to be gratuitously rude.

It's a wonder we have any allies left at this point.

Here's one Canadian newspaper's response:

"The Americans seem to be saying they will ban whomever they like and they won't give reasons, and that they will deport people to be tortured if that's what they feel like doing. Simultaneously, they seem to be saying Canada must share every bit of information it has about anyone who proposes to cross the border.

Well, Canada doesn't have to hand over our information if the U.S. doesn't take our concerns seriously.

That is why Harper should tell U.S. President George Bush that this lopsided take on North American security does not work for us.

In addition, the parliamentary committees that oversee Canada-U.S. security information sharing should review the entire range of co-operation in this area.

Both countries undeniably have an interest in working together to thwart terror. But if the Americans are going to be heavy-handed, we need to be correspondingly cautious."

Update: John Dean, Nixon's former counsel, is dismayed by Gonzales's recent testimony before Congress:

In the history of U.S. Attorney Generals, Alberto Gonzales is constantly reaching for new lows. So dubious is his testimony that he is not afforded the courtesy given most cabinet officers when appearing on Capitol Hill: Congress insists he testify under oath. Even under oath, Gonzales's purported understanding of the Constitution is historically and legally inaccurate, far beyond the bounds of partisan interpretation.

No wonder that with each appearance he makes on Capitol Hill, Gonzales increases his standing as one of the least respected Attorney Generals ever, in the eyes of both Congressional cognoscenti and the legal community.

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