The question for today is, what is unusual about Arar's case? Is it very unusual for the U.S. to knowingly deport someone to a country where they will be tortured? Or is it very unusal for the person to get out and talk to the press about it?
I've been running Lexis-Nexis and Google searches for "extraordinary rendition". (It's a very sad Nexis search to run. Before September 11 almost every article it turns up is about the "extraordinary rendition of the First Symphony" or "an extraordinary rendition of beef negyimaki". After September 11 most articles are about whether we're torturing suspects by proxy.)
The best article I've found, by far, is this one from the Washington Post in December of 2002. I can't recommend the full article highly enough (may I just say that Dana Priest rocks?); here are some of the key excerpts:
In other cases, usually involving lower-level captives, the CIA hands them to foreign intelligence services -- notably those of Jordan, Egypt and Morocco -- with a list of questions the agency wants answered. These "extraordinary renditions" are done without resort to legal process and usually involve countries with security services known for using brutal means.
According to U.S. officials, nearly 3,000 suspected al Qaeda members and their supporters have been detained worldwide since Sept. 11, 2001. About 625 are at the U.S. military's confinement facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Some officials estimated that fewer than 100 captives have been rendered to third countries. Thousands have been arrested and held with U.S. assistance in countries known for brutal treatment of prisoners, the officials said.
According to one official who has been directly involved in rendering captives into foreign hands, the understanding is, "We don't kick the [expletive] out of them. We send them to other countries so they can kick the [expletive] out of them."....
The Clinton administration pioneered the use of extraordinary rendition after the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. But it also pressed allied intelligence services to respect lawful boundaries in interrogations.
After years of fruitless talks in Egypt, President Bill Clinton cut off funding and cooperation with the directorate of Egypt's general intelligence service, whose torture of suspects has been a perennial theme in State Department human rights reports.
"You can be sure," one Bush administration official said, "that we are not spending a lot of time on that now."
The only bright spot in this article is that you get the impression sending someone to Syria is unusual--that we usually send them to countries with dark grey records on prisoners' rights, not black. And you get the impression that these are people captured in Al Qaeda camps in the mountains of Afghanistan by the CIA, not by airport security at JFK international. But combine this article with the Arar case, and....well, it's pretty awful.
It may be that Arar (if his allegations are true, but they have not been disputed by any credible source) was a uniquely horrible case. A deportee/victim who is probably innocent* of all wrongdoing, who may have been taken on very flimsy evidence, who was taken from a U.S. airport, who was taken to one of the worst regimes in the world, with the approval of the second highest person in the Justice Department, despite an explicit warning to the government that he would be tortured. It may be that this is an unusual combination, that we usually "render" people captured abroad and people whom we know are guilty, and we usually deport them to Jordan or Egypt or Morocco rather than Syria, and we usually retain some semblance of control over their interrogation. How comforting any of this is is up to you.
But is also possible that what is unique is not Arar's fate, but that we know about it. Someone who is a Canadian citizen, who saw a lawyer before he was deported, who had family in the West who intervened forcefully on his behalf, who got out, who was willing and able to hire a lawyer and talk to the press.
Which is it? I don't know. I will certainly try to find out, but I'm not optimistic that I'll get anywhere. With a few admirable exceptions, there's not much press coverage of this in the U.S. The U.S. government does not feel any need to justify itself to the Canadian press, public, or government. I could file a Freedom of Information Act Request, but I am 99.9999999% sure that this information is classified. I'm sure someone has requested it, and been denied. They may even have sued under FOIA, but such lawsuits are not likely to succeed.
*That's my opinion, not fact, but I think it's well supported. I'll do a post on that subject another day.