The Facts Machine

"And I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide"

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

AMERICA'S THIRD-PARTY TORTURERS

Kevin Drum points to a piece in today's LA Times by Canadian citizen Maher Arar, who was sent by American agents to a grave-sized cell in Syria, and was tortured repeatedly.

Here's a chunk:
I recently spent 10 1/2 months in a grave-sized cell in Syria, unsure why I was there, unsure how to get out. Fear paralyzed my wits when I needed them most. I was beaten and I was tortured and I was constantly scared. Every day I worried that I would never be released, that I would disappear into that concrete grave forever.

Why was I being held? I still don't really know. I am not a terrorist. I am not a member of Al Qaeda. I am a Syrian-born Canadian. A father and a husband. A telecommunications engineer. I have never been in trouble with the police and have always been a good citizen.

My ordeal began on the afternoon of Sept. 26, 2002, when my flight back from a family vacation in Tunisia stopped over in New York and American immigration officials pulled me aside to answer a few questions. At first it was only an inconvenience — thorough airport security, post 9/11-style. But my questioners persisted. And when someone waved a copy of the 1997 lease for my Ottawa apartment, I was shocked and confused. What was going on here? Who gave them the lease and what was its significance to them? For the first time, I began to realize that the questioning was not simply routine.

My interrogation in the United States took days. Shuttling in shackles among immigration officials, FBI agents and police officers, I asked repeatedly for a lawyer but was told that I didn't have the right to one because I was not an American citizen. There were no phone calls home either.

Only after days of often abusive, insulting, degrading questioning about whom I knew and what I was up to (besides computer work for my Boston-based employer) was I finally permitted to use a telephone.

But still I couldn't see the full picture. In the early hours of Oct. 8, 2002, I was formally notified that the U.S. government had classified information about me that it would not reveal — and it would be deporting me that very day, without a word to my family, to the long-forgotten place of my birth, Syria.

To this day, unnamed American officials continue to allege that I have ties to Al Qaeda, although I have not seen the details and I have not been charged with a crime.

I hadn't been to Syria since moving to Canada with my family when I was 17. For half my life I have had no connection at all to that country. Yet I would surely be tortured, I told my New York captors, because I'm a Sunni Muslim; because my mother's cousin had been accused of being in the Muslim Brotherhood and imprisoned for nine years; because I had left the country before undertaking my military service.

My arguments were useless. Soon I was in a small private jet, chained and panic-stricken; then in a succession of cars in Jordan and Syria, blindfolded and beaten repeatedly; and finally placed in that shallow grave.

I describe my cell in Syria as a grave because it was just 3 feet wide, 6 feet long, 7 feet high and unlit. While I was there I sometimes felt on the verge of death after beatings with a black electrical cable about two inches thick. They mostly aimed for my palms but sometimes missed and hit my wrists. Other times, I was left alone in a special "waiting room" within earshot of others' screams. At the end of the day, they would tell me that tomorrow would be worse. In those 10 1/2 months I lost about 40 pounds. I never saw, but only heard, the agony of my fellow prisoners. I was so scared I urinated on myself twice.
And there's more where that came from. And boy, does it ever sound familiar.

Why are we sending people to Syria, a country we've threatened to attack? Remember, we have Bush and other warmongers running around saying that our justification for the Iraq war (after the fact, of course) was that we had to liberate the Iraqi people from Saddam Hussein's Ba'athist regime who, among other things, engaged in torture.

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