April 20, 2006

Our Dirty War, II

Related Essays: Our Dirty War: Only Evil

Barbarian Nation: The Torturers Win

On Torture

Bob Herbert:
I said, "Some of these folks have never been heard from again, right?"

"Yup," said Curt Goering. "That's right."

Mr. Goering is the senior deputy executive director for policy and programs at Amnesty International USA. We were discussing a subject — government-sanctioned disappearances — that ordinarily would repel most Americans.

In past years, stories about torture and "the disappeared" have been associated with sinister regimes in South and Central America. The attitude in the United States was that we were above such dirty business, that it was immoral and uncivilized, and we were better than that.

But times change, and we've lowered our moral standards several notches since then. Now people are disappearing at the hands of the U.S. government.

"Below the Radar: Secret Flights to Torture and 'Disappearance' " is the title of a recent Amnesty International report on the reprehensible practice of extraordinary rendition, a highly classified American program in which individuals are seized — abducted — without any semblance of due process and sent off to be interrogated by regimes that are known to engage in torture.

Some of the individuals swept up by rendition simply vanish.


There is no way to know how many people have been seized, tortured or killed. Since there are no official proceedings, there is no way to know whether a particular individual who is taken into custody is a legitimate terror suspect or someone who is innocent of any wrongdoing. But we have learned, after the fact, that mistakes have been made.


Someone had a hunch that Maher Arar was a terrorist, too. A Canadian citizen who had been born in Syria, he was snatched by American authorities at Kennedy Airport in New York on Sept. 26, 2002, and shipped off to a nightmare in Syria that lasted nearly a year. He was held for most of that time in an underground, rat-infested cell about the size of a grave.

No one, not even among the Syrians who tortured him, was ever able to come up with any evidence linking Mr. Arar to terrorism. He was released and returned to his family in Ottawa. Shunned and emotionally shattered, he seems a ruined man at just 35 years of age.

The cases of Khaled el-Masri and Maher Arar are among the handful that we know about. Most cases remain concealed in the lawless netherworld that Mr. Goering spoke of.


The Bush administration will never do the right thing when it comes to rendition. Congress needs to step in and thoroughly investigate this program, which is nothing less than a crime against humanity. Congress needs to investigate it, document it and shut it down.