When did the U.S. government get religion with respect to Syria’s dictatorship? Sure, right now they’re protesting the Syrian dictatorship’s brutal suppression of a rebellion within the country. They’re issuing all sorts of demands to Syria’s dictator to cease his violence and leave office. Just this past week, they sought to secure some sort of anti-Syrian resolution within the United Nations, without success.
But unfortunately the U.S. government hasn’t always felt that way about the Syrian dictatorship. They once embraced it precisely for its brutality.
I’m referring to the infamous case of Mahar Arar, a Canadian citizen who was changing planes at Dulles airport in Virginia on his return to Canada after a trip overseas. U.S. officials, convinced that he was a terrorist, took him into custody for interrogation. His answers didn’t satisfy them.
So, what did those U.S. officials do? Did they charge him with terrorism? Did they take him before a federal magistrate? Did they secure a federal grand-jury indictment against him? Did they prosecute him in federal court for some terrorist offense? Did they use the procedures set forth under U.S. law, including the Constitution?
Absolutely not. They rejected all those procedures and instead contacted unidentified people within the Syrian government. Why Syria? Because Syria was (and is) a brutal dictatorship, one that believed in torturing people. U.S. officials didn’t want to torture Arar themselves because it’s illegal for Americans to torture people. So, they figured that they’d get Syria to do the torturing for them. In that way, they could exclaim, “We knew that Syria was a brutal dictatorship , one that enthusiastically tortures people, but the last thing we thought when we sent Arar to Syria was that they would torture him. We’re shocked to learn that he got tortured there.”
But then why did they send him to Syria instead of Canada, where he lived. After all, he was a Canadian citizen. That’s where he was returning from his overseas trip.
Before he became a Canadian citizen, Arar had been a Syrian citizen. But Syria takes the position that once a Syrian citizen, always a Syrian citizen. Thus, U.S. officials claimed that they were just deporting him to his country of origin, even though they knew that he was now a Canadian citizen.
Which agency was in charge of Arar’s rendition to Syria? You guessed it! The CIA, known far and wide for its kidnapping/rendition/torture program. Don’t forget, for example, those CIA agents who were indicted and convicted of felonies in Italy after they kidnapped and renditioned a man to Egypt for the purpose of torture.
Egypt? Yes, the military dictatorship in Egypt — the one that has been brutalizing, incarcerating without trial, torturing, and executing Egyptians for some 30 years, with the full support of the U.S. government. What type of support? Hundreds of millions of dollars in cash and weaponry. The U.S. government is still supporting Egypt’s brutal military dictatorship today, notwithstanding its protests against the brutal dictatorship in Syria.
So, how did the torture agreement with Syria regarding Arar get negotiated? Who struck the deal on both sides? Was it in writing? Did President George W. Bush sign off on it or did the CIA do this on its own? Does the CIA have the authority to do this type of thing on its own?
We don’t know the answers to any of these questions because we’re not permitted to know them. For one thing, the U.S. mainstream press has never asked these questions of U.S. officials because they know that U.S. officials don’t want them asked. National security is at stake, after all. And Congress has also refused to hold hearings at which they could subpoena the CIA to produce the agents who could testify who negotiated and struck the deal, what the terms of the deal were, and whether President Bush signed off on them.
Of course, the president during that time was George W. Bush, whose position was “We don’t talk to Syria,” notwithstanding the fact that someone obviously was talking to Syria.
Arar was tortured for one year in Syria and finally released, whereupon he returned to Canada. It turned out that he wasn’t a terrorist after all. Despite the fact that U.S. officials were convinced that he was a terrorist, it turns out that he was innocent. The Canadian government, which played a role in the U.S. government’s appalling conduct, apologized to Arar and gave him a financial settlement.
Not so with the U.S. government. Arar sued U.S. officials for what they did to him. But the federal courts denied him any relief once U.S. officials cited the magic term: national security. Why, the courts didn’t even require the government to reconcile its reliance on the magic term (which isn’t even found in the Constitution) with its obviously fake and false claim that it was just innocently deporting Arar to his country of origin.
It’s interesting that the U.S. government is expressing a born-again fervor against Syria’s dictatorship. But one has to ask: Is this simply because U.S. officials see an opportunity to install another dictatorship in its stead, one that will be even more willing to do the U.S. government’s bidding than the current Syrian regime?
P.S. We kick off our College Civil Liberties Tour this evening at Columbia University. If you’re in the area, please join us. If not, join us online in a live-stream of the event.