It was almost two years ago that I asked the question, "How Extraordinary is Extraordinary Rendition?"; whether what was unusual about the U.S. sending Maher Arar to be tortured in Syria without any real evidence that he was a terrorist was that it happened, or that we knew about it. The answer seems to be "that we knew about it." As Hilzoy noted below, the Washington Post reported Sunday that the CIA is investigating up to 36 "erroneous renditions".
So. Who are these men? We know of at least two: Maher Arar and Khaled el-Masri (whose case is decribed in the Post article). Who else?
I don’t know what standard they use to declare a rendition erroneous—whether the suspect needs to affirmatively show innocence, or merely that he does not produce "actionable intelligence" and there is no evidence against him other than his own or someone else's confessions under torture. There are also many cases where I have no real idea about the suspect’s guilt or innocence. So the CIA could be including some of the other renditions that have been publicly reported in that total.
But I have followed this subject very closely, and I definitely do not know about three dozen renditions that a CIA officer would be likely to describe as "erroneous." Nowhere even close to that.
And where are these men? It is possible that some of them were released, but neither they nor their family has ever spoken to the press or a human rights organization. In the cases that we do know of, there is often a fairly long delay between the suspect’s release & his speaking to the press or the public, so it is possible that some may choose never to do this at all. Perhaps that is even a condition of their release from custody. But does that describe 25 or 30 of them? I doubt it. I really doubt it.
Of the 20-odd renditions that I do know of, a very small number of people have been freed: Maher Arar, Mamdouh Habib and Khaled el-Masri. That’s it. Muhammad al-Zery was reportedly released from an Egyptian prison but remains under surveillance and cannot leave the country or speak freely about what happened to him. The rest remain in prison—whether it’s Guantanamo, some CIA detention site, or foreign custody. We know from reading Priest’s description of el-Masri’s case that the discovery of a suspect’s innocence does not necessarily immediately lead to his release. And Khaled el-Masri is a German citizen. Mamdouh Habib is Australian. Maher Arar is Canadian. It is not a coincidence that the men released are citizens of wealthy, Western democracies that are U.S. allies.
Based on all of this, I would guess that most of the thirty-odd prisoners who were “erroneously rendered” are still in prison somewhere. I would also guess that some of them are still being subjected to torture right now.
But this won’t end when they stop being tortured, or when they are released from prison. Not for them.
ooEarlier this year, the Canadian commission of inquiry investigating the Maher Arar case appointed Professor Stephen J. Toope to evaulate the truth of Arar’s allegations of torture in Syria. Toope released his report this October. A PDF version is available here.
Shortly after the report came out, I emailed the regular authors on this site a link, and they offered to give me posting privileges to write one more post on Arar. I didn’t take them up on it. I couldn't seem to write anything coherent about it.
It wasn’t the descriptions of physical torture in Syria that made it difficult. I have read many, many reports about what goes on in Egyptian, Syrian, and Uzbek prisons by now. They’re still horrible of course, but they are no longer even a little surprising, and so it is easy to fall into a sort of clinical detachment. What I found much more upsetting were the descriptions of the continuing psychological effects on Arar. Even reading them felt like a gross violation of privacy at times. Quoting from them felt downright exploitative.
I’m going to quote from it now, though. I’ll explain why in a moment:
Mr. Arar cannot yet contemplate travel by air, even within Canada. He is afraid that the plane might be diverted to the United States, that he might be seized and that his ordeal could begin again. He is afraid the he will not be able to resume any “normal” life. He is afraid that he will not be believed.
One of the most difficult psychological effects of the detention was that Mr. Arar kept sensing that bugs were crawling over his body, and particularly around his genitals. He thought that the bugs were real, but they turned out to be psychological creations. Dr. Gruner indicated that such thoughts are not unusual for people who have lived for a long time in completely unsanitary conditions of detention.
Dr. Mazigh met Mr. Arar at the airport in Montreal upon his return from Syria. She was shocked to discover a man who was submissive, without any light in his eyes. As she put it, he “looked like a dog” and he seemed “lost.”
A particularly telling indication of the psychological trauma still facing Mr. Arar is that he has found it very hard to read the Koran since returning to Canada. He read the Koran every day in the Far Falestin, as soon as the holy book was provided to him. He has been a devout and observant Muslim since his student days at McGill. Dr. Gruner emphasized how often Mr. Arar has spoken about this problem of not reading the Koran. Mr. Arar has not sure why he has faced this difficulty.
Mr. Arar told me that he feels guilty about how he relates to his own family. He often feels emotionally distant and preoccupied with his own concerns. He is often impatient with his children, and finds that he cannot spend time with them on their terms.....Dr. Mazigh certainly senses this distance. She also noted that Mr. Arar defers to her on almost all decisions. That aspect of their relationship has become “awkward,” to use the word chosen by Dr. Mazigh. Mr. Arar seems to need his wife to be strong and in control, while he feels weak and disoriented. But at the same time, he is not comfortable with his position of dependence.
I cannot imagine how it would feel for those things about me, and several others which I did not include, to be published for all the world to see. As I said, even reading them felt like a violation of privacy. And yet, Arar chose this. He exposed himself to it quite deliberately.
He did not do it for his health. His doctors, family members and Prof. Toope seem to think all this is actively bad for his health:
This fear and distrust have actually been compounded by his experience of the Commisssion of Inquiry. He was particularly disturbed by certain “leaks” from sources allegedly inside the Canadian Government that cast him in a negative light…All of his advisers that I interviewed emphasized that Mr. Arar was “devastated” by these leaks. Some described him as “hysterical.” He simply could not control his emotions, and it took many hours of constant conversation to calm him down each time new information surfaced in the press that he thought to be misleading and unfair
I could sense that Mr. Arar’s focus on the Commission of Inquiry and upon his concerns over “security” issues generally have become a significant source of tension. Other close observers told me that Mr. Arar was "fixated" and "obsessed" with having his story told, with the proceedings of the Commission of Inquiry, and with the fate of other people in detention. Dr. Mazigh mentioned that when the Commission of Inquiry was not sitting, Mr. Arar was calmer than when it was in session. A friend of Mr. Arar's told me that even on a family hike in the Gatineau Hills near Ottawa the only thing Mr. Arar could talk about was the Inquiry.
He did not do it for economic gain. He is suing for damages in a U.S. Court, but my guess is that the lawsuit will not succeed. In the meantime, he is unemployed:
Although the psychological effects of Mr. Arar's detention and torture in Syria have been serious, the economic effects have been close to catastrophic, at least from the perspective of a middle class engineer who has had to rely on public assistance to feed and clothe his family. Every person I interviewed who knows Mr. Arar well stressed that his inability to find a job since returning to Canada has had a devastating effect upon both his psychological state and his family finances.
Mr. Arar told me that his lack of employment was "destroying" him.
I don’t think publishing this sort of information is going to do wonders for his job search, to put it mildly. So why is he putting himself through all of this?
As far as I can tell, he is acting in the desperate hope that it will help stop this from happening to anyone else, ever again. I wrote this post, and quoted these sections of the report, in that same hope.
Arar is one of the lucky ones. He has been safe in Canada for over two years now. He has his family. Based on the Washington Post today, there are several dozen other prisoners, who are no more terrorists than you or I, who are much, much worse off. And there is no reason to believe that this has stopped happening.
Do we want to be this kind of country? The kind that disappears innocent people into torture chambers and won’t so much as apologize for it? Does it really make us any safer? Even if it did, would it be worth it?
It’s our choice, really. And please keep in mind that we cannot, as we have in past conflicts, simply wait for the war to end, and then open the jails and cut down the barbed wire and remember what country this is. This is not that kind of war. As Sabin Wilett, an attorney for two Uighur prisoners held at Guantanamo, stated in a speech at Boston University this October:
I hold each of you in this room personally responsible for GTMO. As I hold myself. It is no good wringing one’s hands about the Bush administration. Democracy is the civic expression of the law of principal and agent. You and I are responsible for what he does…
The rule of law will not return to our country easily. It is not coming back on its own. It will come back only when you go out and grab hold of it by the ears and drag it back. In the ballot box and the courtroom and the newspaper and the public street.
I guess now would be a good time to remind anyone still reading this that the defense appropriations bill which includes Graham-Levin Amendment (limiting habeas at Guantanamo) and McCain Amendment (outlawing cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment anywhere in U.S. custody) are being discussed in conference committee right now. I don’t know how much good it will do at this point, but it couldn’t possibly hurt to let your Representative and Senators know that you’re very concerned about the outcome, especially if they sit on the conference committee. You might also ask them to cosponsor H.R. 952 and S. 654, the House and Senate bills which would outlaw rendition. The Senate version, in particular, should have far more cosponsors than it does. Right now there are only five: Leahy, Kennedy, Durbin, Feingold, and Obama. (I can personally attest that nagging works sometimes, it really does. Too many Congressional Democrats are pathetically under-informed on these issues; we probably could've stopped Graham otherwise.) Finally, if your Senator is on the intelligence committee, you might also consider asking when exactly Pat @$%#%! Roberts is going to hold the first hearings on the CIA’s detainee policies.
Author's note: Nobody panic--this is a one-off, not the beginning of an 8 part series.
(minor transcription, style & formatting edits).