February 20, 2006

Barbarian Nation: The Torturers Win

From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
A federal judge has tossed out a civil rights lawsuit filed by a Syrian-born Canadian man who claimed U.S. counterterrorism officials deported him so he could be tortured in Syria.

Maher Arar had sued the officials in 2004 in what was believed to be the first case challenging extraordinary rendition - the policy of transferring foreign terror suspects to third countries without court approval.

U.S. District Judge David G. Trager rejected arguments that Arar was protected by the Torture Victim Prevention Act, which allows U.S. courts to assess damages for human rights abuses committed abroad.

Trager said that as a non-citizen, Arar couldn't demonstrate that he has a viable cause of action under that statute.

Citing "the national security and foreign policy considerations at stake," the judge said Arar had no grounds in a U.S. court to claim his constitutional right to due process was violated.


Justice Department officials were pleased with the judge's ruling, spokesman Charles Miller said.

Attorneys for the Center for Constitutional Rights, which filed the lawsuit on Arar's behalf, said the ruling set a disturbing precedent.

"To allow the Bush administration to evade accountability and continue to hide behind a smoke screen of 'national security' is to do grave and irreparable damage to the Constitution and the guarantee of human rights that people in this country could once be proud of," attorney Maria LaHood said.
Bob Herbert, "The Torturers Win" (fair use for educational purposes):
Terrible things were done to Maher Arar, and his extreme suffering was set in motion by the United States government. With the awful facts of his case carefully documented, he tried to sue for damages. But last week a federal judge waved the facts aside and told Mr. Arar, in effect, to get lost.

We're in a new world now and the all-powerful U.S. government apparently has free rein to ruin innocent lives without even a nod in the direction of due process or fair play. Mr. Arar, a Canadian citizen who, according to all evidence, has led an exemplary life, was seized and shackled by U.S.authorities at Kennedy Airport in 2002, and then shipped off to Syria, his native country, where he was held in a dungeon for the better part of a year. He was tormented physically and psychologically, and at times tortured.

The underground cell was tiny, about the size of a grave. ...

Mr. Arar's captors beat him savagely with an electrical cable. He was allowed to bathe in cold water once a week. He lost 40 pounds while in captivity.

This is a quintessential example of the reprehensible practice of extraordinary rendition, in which the U.S. government kidnaps individuals ­presumably terror suspects ­ and sends them off to regimes that are skilled in the fine art of torture. In terms of vile behavior, rendition stands shoulder to shoulder with contract killing.

If the United States is going to torture people, we might as well do it ourselves. Outsourcing torture does not make it any more acceptable.

Mr. Arar's case became a world-class embarrassment when even Syria's torture professionals could elicit no evidence that he was in any way involved in terrorism. After 10 months, he was released. No charges were ever filed against him.


In a ruling that basically gave the green light to government barbarism, U.S. District Judge David Trager dismissed Mr. Arar's lawsuit last Thursday. Judge Trager wrote in his opinion that "Arar's claim that he faced a likelihood of torture in Syria is supported by U.S. State Department reports on Syria's human rights practices."

But in dismissing the suit, he said that the foreign policy and national security issues raised by the government were "compelling" and that such matters were the purview of the executive branch and Congress, not the courts.

He also said that "the need for secrecy can hardly be doubted."

Under that reasoning, of course, the government could literally get away with murder. With its bad actions cloaked in court-sanctioned secrecy, no one would be the wiser.

As an example of the kind of foreign policy problems that might arise if Mr. Arar were given his day in court, Judge Trager wrote: "One need not have much imagination to contemplate the negative effect on our relations with Canada if discovery were to proceed in this case and were it to turn out that certain high Canadian officials had, despite public denials, acquiesced in Arar's removal to Syria."

Oh yes, by all means, we need the federal courts to fully protect the right of public officials to lie to their constituents.

"It's a shocking decision," said Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights. "It's really saying that an individual who is sent overseas for the purpose of being tortured has no claim in a U.S. court."

If kidnapping and torturing an innocent man is O.K., what's not O.K.?
This is the "democracy" and "freedom" that the United States seeks to impose on other nations by means of military force, bombing, death and devastation, even on nations that represent no threat to us.

And the defenders of this administration and of these policies still wonder "why they hate us"? Here's a simple clue for those who insist on such massive denial even at this late date: it's not because of "who we are." It's because of what we do. That is much more than sufficient reason.

Related Essays: The series On Torture, and in particular Part III (Brutality and Sadism as National Policy, and the Monsters of Our Time), and Part IV (Becoming Monsters, and Ensuring Our Ultimate Defeat)