So some of you must have wondered why I've spent so much time and effort blogging about the Arar case. In part it's because I used to be a reporter and it's fun to keep those skills from getting rusty. In part it's a quest for links (precious links!). In part it's because I'm going on extended blogging hiatus very soon, and I wanted to make sure I did something worthwile before I did.
But mainly it's because think it's such an incredibly important, and under-reported story.
There have been a lot of limits on civil rights since September 11. Some of them are probably necessary, but some are not; some are more or less benign, but some are dangerous. Although you hear most often about the Patriot Act, most of the most controversial and severe changes were made by the executive branch without prior authorization or supervision by Congress. Many of these changes were made in secret.
You can blame the Bush administration or not, as you choose--you can guess my position. But in all honesty, Congress and the public have not made a strong effort to find out what was happening, or tell the President what he could and could not do. (A notable exception to this is the Senate Judiciary committee's insistence on some revisions of, and time to consider the Patriot Act.)
I don't think this is because we're willing to allow anything, as long as there's any chance it would keep us safer. I think most Americans would not accept what happened to Maher Arar, if they knew of it. But we don't know, and we tend to give our leaders the benefit of the doubt when the country is in danger. I suspect it's much easier for most people to imagine the next catastrophic terrorist attack if we don't go far enough, than it is to imagine that someone might end up being tortured because we go too far.
This is a rare case where the veil of secrecy has been lifted. We don't know all the details or explanations, but we know that something terrible happened. Our government took a man from an airport in New York City and handed him over to Syria, where he was tortured for 10 months. I think I've made a decent case that he was probably innocent; that this was done with the knowledge and approval of fairly important government officials; and that this was not some freak accident or isolated occurrence. This happened, and there is no reason to believe it will not happen again. (We are less chummy with Syria these days, but that may change and there is never any shortage of nasty regimes in the world. And the agreement with Canada about this case is incomplete, and only applies to Canadian citizens anyway.)
As Ted Barlow said last November, "I support the vigorous investigation and prosecution of terrorists and terrorist suspects. But if this isn’t over the line, then there is no line." It is not acceptable to me for my country to send people to be tortured on scant evidence, or on evidence gained from other torture sessions. I don't believe it makes my family any safer in the long run, and even if it did I would not support it.
Maybe that's not what happened. I've looked at this very carefully, and it seems the most likely explanation to me, but I could always be wrong. But I think it is beyond dispute that we need an investigation.
Yes, it might damage Bush politically, and no, I would not shed any tears over that. But I think it would lead to Ashcroft's replacement at most, and the public will not blame Bush too much for overreacting in the name of protecting us from terrorists. Anyway, some things have to matter more than politics. These are dangerous times, and historic times--surely we can manage to agree on something more important than a do-not-call registry.
So, how do we get an investigation, you ask? Umm...well...er...
I'm afraid I don't have anything more original to offer than to simply talk to people you know about this, or write a letter to the editor, or to your local Congressman or Senator. That goes triple if one of your Congresscritters sit on the House or Senate Intelligence Committee. (If none of your Congresscritters are on those committees, I notice that Johnny Edwards is on the Senate one, and he might listen more to folks outside his state--on the other side of the aisle I don't really know; Snowe and Hagel have always impressed me.)