In the name of national security
If Maher Arar was in fact a threat to the US, why...
November 4, 2003
When times are hard and a society is overwhelmed with fear and
uncertainty logic is often the first casualty. What was rationally
explained yesterday loses transparency and becomes opaque and blind
faith born out of insecurity replaces the need to know. The
case of Syrian-Canadian Maher Arar and his yearlong ordeal is the
case in point.
Last September Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen
of Syrian decent, was stopped and taken into custody at New York's
JFK airport by US immigration officials. Mr. Arar, en route
to Montreal after vacationing in Tunisia, was anxious to get back
to his family. Within
days Arar was put on a plane and deported to Syria, a country he
had not visited in nearly 18 years.
At no point he was charged
or given an official reason as to his arrest. Arar and his
wife were highly educated upwardly mobile new immigrants, not the
kind of shadowy figures often painted of terrorist suspects. He
has a master's degree in Computer Engineering and his wife
is a PhD in Mathematics.
What was alarming about the Arar
case for many Canadians of Middle Eastern descent was that his
Canadian citizenship and passport bought him no protection. He
was simply discarded like a piece of rubbish, his fate of no consequence
to US Attorney General John Ashcroft and Home Land Security Secretary
The Canadian government made some noise and its
Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham made some remarks publicly
about putting questions to Colin Powel but Americans, poised for
a confrontation with Iraq and wearing the cloak of indignation
tightly around their collective selves were in no mood to bother
with a puny nuisance like the Arar case.
For all intent and
purposes Maher Arar was a forgotten man. In the months that
followed Arar's wife, Monia Mazigh, with the help of some
progressive lawyers, embarked on a one-woman crusade on Canadian
media to make her husband's plight public. She asked
pointed and disturbing questions, which mostly remained unanswered.
government had informed the Canadians that they intended to charge
Arar with membership in the Moslem Brotherhood, a banned organization
in Syria. Mr. Arar's wife categorically denied that
her husband had any links to Al Qaeda or any other terrorist organization
and demanded the Canadian government to secure his release from
Last month Maher Arar was finally released to
the custody of Canadian government and was reunited with her family. In
a press conference, flanked by his lawyer and his wife, a tired
and weary looking Arar recounted torture and interrogation in Syrian
jail and demanded a public inquiry as to the hows and whys of his
So far no public inquiry is forthcoming. Mr.
Ashcroft and Canadian solicitor General Wayne Easter met and discussed
the issue but claiming national security, revealed little about
the case. However it now appears that the Canadian government,
at least its intelligence branch, played a part in Arar's
Certain intelligence reports about Arar were
conveyed to the FBI by the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police),
which may have played a part in his detention at the
New York's JFK originally. All Mr. Ashcroft was willing
to say was that it was deemed in the national security interest
of US to send Arar back to Syria.
And here is were the break
down in simple logic appears. If Maher Arar was in fact linked
to Al Qaeda or the Moslem Brotherhood and a threat to the US (and
so far no one has taken this officially back) why was he not put
under custody in the US? It's true he is not a US citizen
but neither are tens of so-called enemy combatants in Camp X. If
Arar is to be deported to anywhere why not to a friendly country
like Canada where he lives and is a citizen of.
intelligence already had a file on Arar and could deal with him
accordingly.[i] Why would the Americans send a "terror
suspect", someone who could potentially provide them with
valuable information, to Syria, a "rouge state", one
on US State department's list of so-called terrorist states
providing financial support and military bases to Hezbaollah and
Hamas? Is it possible that the Americans wouldn't at
least notify Canadian officials before deporting one of their citizens
to a potentially life threatening situation?
Any which way
you look at it, there isn't much logic in all of this unless
one is willing to have faith in the magic wand of "national
security" to explain all. Because when we are scared
we relinquish our right to know and to logic and are asked by the
state to trust it completely.
The cynical conclusion is that
neither the Americans nor the Canadians had conclusive evidence
connecting Maher Arar to Al Qaeda or any other terror networks
but decided to relieve themselves of his case by simply dumping
him into Syrian hands. Let the Syrians do our dirty work.
Torture may be a dirty word in the US and Canada but apparently
common currency in Syria. Given the right set of "stimulants",
either Mr. Arar would fess up or end up dead. Either way
he's off our hands. Politics indeed makes strange bedfellows.[ii]
[i] The single piece of incriminating evidence against Mr. Arar
seemed to have been a rental agreement co-signed by a man currently
in custody in Syria under suspicion of association with Al Qaeda. According
to Arar, he had been friendly with the man's brother through
a computer business he had owned at one point. As is the
case with most ethnic groups doing business within the community
is common practice. Originally the man's brother was
supposed to be the co-signer on Arar's rental agreement,
but that day the hand of fate interfered, he was held up by another
business and sent his brother instead. The situation is best
described, well... Kafkaesque.
[ii] A comprehensive view of the Arar case can be found on The
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's site at www.cbc.ca/news/background/arar/
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