The outrage for Maher Arar continues. Arar is the Canadian man who was captured by American authorities on a false tip from Canadian law enforcement, sent to Syria and tortured for 10 months before being released. He is completely innocent, as a Canadian board of inquiry showed recently. And to add insult to injury, quite literally, he could not fly to the United States recently to accept a human rights award because he’s still on the government’s no-fly list. He accepted by videotape instead:
He broke down in tears during a videotaped acceptance speech at the National Press Club, when he was describing his imprisonment and the beatings he endured during 10 months spent mostly in a filthy “grave” in Syria.
He said “life in the cell was impossible” and that he contemplated suicide as soon as he realized he was in Syria.
The beatings were so painful, he said, that “I forgot every moment I enjoyed in my life.”
“Since my release, I have been suffering from anxiety, constant fear and depression. My life will never be the same again. But I promised myself one thing, that I will continue my quest for justice as long as I have a breath.”
And what is it that he wants?
Arar, who participated by telephone in an afternoon news conference at the policy institute, said he wants U.S. officials to accept the findings of the Canadian report and remove his name and his wife’s from the list.
“First they will have to acknowledge what they did was wrong and, second, they have to hold those people accountable.”
Arar, who’s appealing a U.S. lawsuit that was dismissed by a federal judge, said he has just one simple question for President George W. Bush.
“Knowing that Syria tortures people . . . why did they send me to that country?”
The report from O’Connor said U.S. officials, acting on faulty intelligence from Canadians, violated the Vienna convention on Consular Relations by shipping Arar off to Syria without telling Canada.
“The responsibility is shared between the Canadian officials and American authorities,” said Arar, who is also seeking compensation from Canada for his ordeal.
“I think everyone recognizes so far I have lost four years of my life. I have not been able to find a job. Hopefully we’ll be able to reach some kind of fair settlement with the government.”
And how is the US government handling the situation?
The U.S. has acknowledged that Arar was a victim of what is known as rendition and Ottawa has lodged a formal complaint with the Bush administration over his treatment.
John Cavanagh, director of the IPS, said he wrote to U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to ask that Arar be removed from the no-fly list.
“I am, alas, not surprised that I received no reply.”
Very nice. “We didn’t let him fly, but we can’t acknowledge that he’s on the no-fly list.” Here’s the tragic fact: Maher Arar is not the only innocent man tortured for absolutely no reason, based solely on a false tip from someone. These are real people, with children and wives and friends, and they have been tortured. This is not an abstraction, not some anonymous brown person on the other side of the world that you can dismiss as just another faceless bad guy. And this must stop. And those who did it must be held accountable.