In 2004, a Syrian-Canadian named Maher Arar became an international symbol of war-on-terror excesses. U.S. officials, Arar told the press, detained him at Kennedy Airport in 2002 on suspicion of involvement in terrorism and whisked him to Syria for interrogation, where he was tortured
for ten months before the Syrians released him. (Even they
doubted that Arar was in league with al-Qaeda after his interrogation.) Allegations that Canadian authorities were involved in torture prompted an official inquiry, which last fall exonerated
Arar of any link to terrorism.
That report also confirmed -- while excluding key details for diplomatic reasons -- that Arar's arrest was part of an awful feedback loop in which information extracted by torture from Syrian prisons implicating Arar reached both the American and Canadian security services, which then worked feverishly to detain him and send him to Syria for his own round of torture. The truth of his involvement with terrorism was simply taken for granted.
On Friday, the so-called Arar Commission declassified those telling details
(pdf) from the original report -- information that gets specific about the CIA's desire to get Arar to Syria. Rendition here appears less as a vital intelligence tool than a method of getting around the need to justify detaining someone in countries with constitutional protections for the accused. According to one now-released portion:
In October 2002, (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) officials knew that the United States might have sent Mr. Arar to a country where he could be questioned in a "firm manner." In a report to his superiors dated October 11, 2002, the CSIS security liaison officer (SLO) in Washington spoke of a trend they had noticed lately that when the CIA or FBI cannot legally hold a terrorist suspect, or wish a target questioned in a firm manner, they have them rendered to countries willing to fullfull that role. He said Mr. Arar was a case in point.
Among other things that the just-released portions confirm: the original basis for believing Arar was a terrorist was a detainee who also said he was tortured by the Syrians. The commissioners write that when the Royal Canadian Mounted Police applied for a warrant to tap Arar's phone, "the RCMP did not give the following information to the judge: (i) the human rights record of Syria (and); (ii) the public record that the Syrian Military Intelligence (SMI) was known to torture detainees in order to get information while the detainees are held incommunicado at the Palestine Branch. At the material time, Mr. (Ahmed Abou) Elmaati was held incommunicado at the Palestine Branch by the SMI..."
The New York Times noted on Saturday that the FBI disbelieved Arar was a terrorist even then. But despite that initial, correct FBI assessment -- to say nothing of the Arar Commission's exoneration -- Arar is still refused entry to the U.S. on the grounds that he poses a security risk. When Canadian Minister of Public Safety Stockwell Day requested that the U.S. treat Arar as a normal Canadian citizen, U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins called Day's request "presumptuous."