When I first heard about the Maher Arar case, sometime in November, I assumed it was a low level screw-up with tragic consequences, that went something like this: This guy is on a terrorism watch list for some reason, we don't have enough evidence to arrest him, there is some miscommunication or spat with Canada, and he has dual citizenship. An immigration or homeland security official sends him to Syria because he can, and because it's the easiest way to "fix" the problem (perhaps there's an element of racism in this, too). And the administration goes into its customary "we are infallible so therefore we didn't do anything wrong" mode.
This is not what happened. For reasons I cannot understand (I'll take my best guess in the next post) the United States government seems to have gone to a great deal of trouble to deport Arar to Syria, and the decision was made by high ranking officials at the Department of Justice, the INS, and possibly the intelligence services. Evidence of this:
1. The decision to deport Maher Arar was approved by the second highest official in the Justice Department. (source: Washington Post.)
2. Arar was held for nearly two weeks (September 26, 2002-October 8, 2002) and interrogated at length several times before being removed from the United States. (source: Amnesty International Canada).
He was deported only after he spoke to representative of the Canadian consul's office, and an attorney, and after he told interrogators that he would be tortured. Source: Arar's November statement to the press.)
3. Based on Arar's statement (above), the Director of the INS also approved his deportation:
They took me to another room and stripped and searched me again. Then they again chained and shackled me. Then two officials took me inside a room and read me what they said was a decision by the INS Director.
They told me that based on classified information that they could not reveal to me, I would be deported to Syria. I said again that I would be tortured there. Then they read part of the document where it explained that INS was not the body that deals with Geneva Conventions regarding torture.
(this was after Arar first told interrogators he would be tortured if deported to Syria.)
4. The deportation itself was extremely unusual. I don't know exactly how a normal deportation works, but I am certain it's not like this (from Arar's statement):
"Then they took me outside into a car and drove me to an airport in New Jersey. Then they put me on a small private jet. I was the only person on the plane with them. I was still chained and shackled. We flew first to Washington. A new team of people got on the plane and the others left. I overheard them talking on the phone, saying that Syria was refusing to take me directly, but Jordan would take me."
Arar gave a more detailed (but entirely consistent) account of being flown to Washington, and then to the Middle East, to the Washington Post on November 12:
Arar said he was flown first to Washington, which he determined from a video display showing the location of the plane. The plane spent an hour on the ground in Washington before a "special removal unit," a term he overheard, came on board.
"They did not introduce themselves," he said. "They did not have badges." Arar overheard phone conversations. "They said Syria was refusing to take me directly and I would have to fly to Jordan." The plane flew first to Portland, Maine, then to Rome and finally to Amman, the Jordanian capital.
During the flight, Arar said, he talked with an agent who identified himself as "Khoury," and who said his grandfather had moved to the United States from Syria. "He was in charge. He was an old man in his fifties. Khoury appeared sympathetic. He told them to take off the shackles and chains."
Arar told the man he was afraid of being tortured. "The man told me, 'Why don't you talk to the Jordanians? They might be able to keep you in Jordan.' In his eyes he felt sorry. But he was in the special removal unit. His job was to hand over people."
5. Arar was, in fact, taken to Jordan before he arrived in Syria.
From his statement:
Then we flew to Portland, to Rome, and then to Amman, Jordan. All the time I was on the plane I was thinking how to avoid being tortured. I was very scared. We landed in Amman at 3:00 in the morning local time on October 9th.
They took me out of plane and there were six or seven Jordanian men waiting for us. They blindfolded and chained me, and put me in a van. They made me bend my head down in the back seat. Then, these men started beating me. Every time I tried to talk they beat me. For the first few minutes it was very intense.
Thirty minutes later we arrived at a building where they took off my blindfold and asked routine questions, before taking me to a cell. It was around 4:30 in the morning on October 9. Later that day, they took my fingerprints, and blindfolded me and put me in a van. I asked where I was going, and they told me I was going back to Montreal.
About 45 minutes later, I was put into a different car. These men started beating me again. They made me keep my head down, and it was very uncomfortable, but every time I moved, they beat me again. Over an hour later we arrived at what I think was the border with Syria. I was put in another car and we drove for another three hours. I was taken into a building, where some guards went through my bags and took some chocolates I bought in Zurich.
I asked one of the people where I was and he told me I was in the Palestine branch of the Syrian military intelligence. It was now about 6:00 in the evening on October 9.
6. News reports at the time confirm that Arar was taken to Jordan before he arrived in Syria, though they say he crossed into Jordan over a week later than October 9--but the information about when he crossed the border comes only from the Syrian government:
Maher Arar, whose whereabouts have been uncertain since Oct. 8, crossed the border from Jordan into Syria late Monday and is being detained, the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs said Tuesday. The department learned of Arar's arrival from Canada's ambassador to Syria, who in turn was informed by the Syrian government.(Source: St. Petersburg Times, 10/23/02, p. 2A)
Details remained sketchy, including how long Arar was in Jordan, who transported him across the border, and why and where he is being held in Syria.
7. Throughout this time, the U.S. government refused to reveal any information about this case to the press:
"We're not saying anything about it," said INS spokesman Bill Strassberger. "There's no explanation why. We're just not saying anything."
Arar was apparently not given a deportation hearing. Such hearings are tracked by the US Immigration Court, a federal agency separate from INS. But spokeswoman Elaine Komis said Wednesday that the agency has no record of Arar.
Immigration officials said one possibility was that Arar's hearing was closed by a judge for national security reasons. But they said such an order would not necessarily bar INS spokesmen from explaining the reason for his deportation. (Boston Globe, 10/18/02, p. A31).
8. During this period the U.S. also gave limited, contradictory, and inaccurate information to the Canadian government, based on Canadian statements to the press:
--One Canadian official told the New York Times that Arar "had been detained on an immigration-related charge and was deported on an immigration infraction." (NY Times, 10/12/02, p. )
--Another Canadian official told the Toronto Star that:
The lawyer Maher Arar chose, on the advice of Canadian consular representatives, did not show up for the dual Syrian-Canadian citizen's immigration hearing Oct. 7 in New York, the official said on condition of anonymity."The lawyer did not attend, for reasons that had nothing to do with the Americans per se," he said. "They asked the lawyer to be present and she didn't show up. And we subsequently learned that it was at that hearing that the immigration judge basically ordered Arar to be deported to Syria." (note that this contradict's Arar's statement, Arar's attorney's statements to the press, and the Immigration Court spokeswoman in the Boston Globe article above.)
American officials declared Arar a member of Al Qaeda, the terrorist network led by Osama bin Laden, that they blame for the Sept. 11 attacks; there was "no ambiguity in the piece of paper that was given" to Canadian authorities, the official said. (Toronto Star, 10/19/02, p. A14)
--"Reynald Doiron, a spokesperson for Canada's Foreign Affairs Department, said he couldn't confirm whether or not Canada's ambassador had met with Arar, but said he expected that consular access to Arar would be allowed by the Syrians....Doiron also said that Canada now believes Arar spent the past two weeks in Jordan despite American assurances he had been deported to Syria." (Toronto Star, 10/23/02, p.A16).
--In many other articles Canadian officials say that the U.S. has refused to disclose any information about Arar's whereabouts or why he was deported.
9. Last November, anonymous U.S. officials told the New York Times that Arar "confessed under torture in Syria that he had gone to Afghanistan for terrorist training, named his instructors and gave other intimate details." (New York Times, 11/15/03, p. A4) This indicates that the U.S. government was receiving information from the Syrian government about their interrogation of Arar.
10. The Syrian government told the Washington Post that:
Syria agreed to imprison Arar in a gesture of goodwill toward the United States.
"They told us he was an al Qaeda activist, so we took him and put him in custody," said Imad Moustafa, chargé d'affaires at the Syrian Embassy in Washington. "The U.S. was pressing us not to send him to Canada, the Canadians were pressing us to not send him to Syria."
Syrian officials freed Arar a month ago because the Bush administration cut communications with the government in Damascus and because they wanted to maintain good ties with the Canadian government, Moustafa said.
The release was a "political decision" made in Damascus, he said. "We believe there is no case against him." Moustafa said U.S. officials told the Syrians they had "solid information" about Arar's links to al Qaeda but never produced any. (Washington Post, 12/5/03)
11. From an Amnesty International Canada Chronology of the case:
"July, 2003 Arar asks again for a meeting with an investigator and his request is eventually granted. He tells him he has nothing to do with Al Qaeda. The Syrian official asks Arar why he is accused of this, why they sent a delegation, and why these people hate him so much. Arar says he does not know."
None of this makes sense to me. I can't see the U.S. government going through all of this unless they really believed he was a terrorist. But for all the reasons I gave in the last two posts, I really think he is innocent. I'll make by best attempt to reconcile these in the next post.