Von notes below that Syrian intelligence forces beat Maher Arar into falsely confessing that he had received terrorist training in Afghanistan. It's actually worse than that. Arar wasn't just tortured into a false confession in a Syrian prison. He also seems to have been sent to be tortured in Palestine Branch partly because of false confessions that two other Canadian citizens made under torture in the same prison.
Their names are Ahmad Abou El-Maati and Abdullah Almalki. Unlike Arar, they both traveled to Syria voluntarily. El-Maati flew to Damascus for an arranged marriage in November 2001. Almalki went there to visit relatives in May 2002. Both were arrested by Syrian intelligence forces when they arrived at the Damascus airport, and taken to a prison called the Palestine Branch. Both have since been released, returned to Canada, and given detailed chronologies of their experiences in Syria to their lawyers. (Here is a PDF of El-Maati's chronology; here is a PDF of Almalki's).
As some of you know, I wrote my law school thesis on the Arar case. I am pasting a few of the most relevant excerpts below. For the sake of convenience, I am omitting my footnotes. The three major sources for this part were El-Maati's chronology, Almalki's chronology, and Arar's November 4, 2003 statement to the media.
El-Maati's first interrogation:
During his first interrogation session, when the Syrian intelligence officers found El-Maati's initial answers to their questions unsatisfactory, they threatened to imprison and rape his wife. El-Maati said he had told the truth and that he 'could not invent a story.' But, according to El-Maati,
[T]hey told him yes, he could invent a story.
They told him to strip naked except for his shorts and made him lie down, and hancuffed his hands behind his back to his legs. He was still blindfoled. They poured ice water all over him and brought in thick electrical cables and started beating him with them on his feet, legs, knees and back. They would occasionally stop and take him back to his cell. This continued for two days.
Ahmad broke down and agreed to say what they wanted him to say.
He was asked about Syrians he knew in Canada, including Abdullah Almalki and Maher Arar. He explained that he had met Arar only once, a brief meeting in a Montreal garage where El-Maati worked in 1998, and that he knew Almalki but not well. El-Maati's interrogators wanted him to say that he had been both Arar and Almalki in Afghanistan. Although El-Maati had only seen Almalki in Afghanistan, and had not spoken to him there, "In the end Ahmad said what he thought they wanted him to--that he had seen them both in Afghanistan." He falsely confessed to a plot with his brother to blow up Canada's Parliament in Ottawa. However, when his interrogators asked him to write down this confession, "he did not want to falsely implicate himself and his brother in writing" and wrote down a different, truthful account.
That night, when his interrogators discovered the discrepancy, three or four of them came to his cell and "dragged him..., kicking and beating him, back to the interrogation room. They handcuffed him, and started burning his shins with cigarettes...." The Syrian officials wanted El-Maati to write out a confession "in front of them, but he was having trouble thinking and was moving too slowly," which led to further abuse. El-Maati said that if they wrote out their version of events he would sign it. The guards took his suggestion. El-Maati was not allowed to read the document that he thumbprinted and signed.
Almalki's first interrogation session was, if anything, more brutal:
...Almalki was driven from the airport to the Palestine Branch, where the interrogations began almost immediately. One of the first questions he asked was whether he knew Ahmad El-Maati. When Almalki said he did not, his interrogator slapped him, and the violence quickly escalated. Almalki was ordered to lie face down on the flor with his hands behind his back and legs in the air. He was beaten with electrical cables on the soles of his feet for an extended period. Interrogators later told him that the session had lasted for seven hours and his feet had been lashed over 1000 times.
The first time Arar came up was on June 12, 2002 the 40th day of Almalki's imprisonment. Almalki's interrogators did not torture him during that session, and they asked him about 20 Canadians, not only Arar.
According to Almalki's chronology, he was tortured very, very severely for several days beginning on July 18 (see pages 20-22 of the PDF above for the details), and made a series of false confessions. On July 18, he falsely stated that he had received terrorist training in Afghanistan from an "Abou Ahmad" (I think this may be El-Maati). He was asked for other names, but "was not in any mental or physical shape to make anything up." When he was given a few hours of rest that night, he came up with a list of names to give to his interrogators. The next day, though, he was treated even worse. Almalki collapsed repeatedly, and cannot remember the details of that session.
On September 26, 2002, Arar was detained while changing planes at JFK. Soon after, he became the focus of Almalki's interrogation sessions in Syria:
According to Almalki's chronology, on September 30, 2002,
Abdullah was taken from his cell to an interrogation room where [high ranking Palestine Branch intelligence officer George] Saloum and about five other interrogators were waiting to question him about Arar....They asked Abdullah to write in detail everything he knew about Maher, and then sent him back to his cell, warning that he better not have lied.
On October 1, 2002, Almalki "was called up again twice to be asked about Arar." On October 3,
Saloum questioned Abdullah again about Arar, and then asked an interrogator to question him and write down what he said. After he read the report, he asked if Arar had been in Pakistan or Afghanistan. Abdullah said no, not to his knowledge. Saloum instructed the interrogator to send the report before noon to headquarters, so they could it somewhere.
Saloum started threatening Abdullah, accusing him of lying. He said that if he was not from al-Qaeda, then he should tell him that someone else, like his brother is. Abdullah said again that he did not know anyone in al-Qaeda.
Saloum told him that Arar would be there soon, and that if he found out he had lied to him, he would put him in a barrel of excrement, reduce the food and drink he is allowed, and then put him in the chair until he was paralyzed. Abdullah said he had told him everything he knew and that if he wanted something else, he should give him a blank paper to sign and fill it himself. Saloum instructed the interrogator to torture him until he need to be hospitalized.[N.B.: Almalki's chronology does not describe this threat being carried out, and doesn't say whether he actually signed a blank piece of paper.]....
Abdullah was questioned again about Arar on October 7.
If Almalki is telling the truth, the U.S. must have been exchanging information with Syrian intelligence during this time. The sudden focus on Arar four days after his detention cannot be a coincidence, and Saloum explicitly tells Almalki that Arar "will be there soon."
Almalki's account is consistent with other reports of the U.S. and Syria sharing intelligence on prisoners being interrogated at the Palestine Branch:
Syrian diplomat Imad Moustapha told 60 Minutes II that Syria had shared its reports about Arar with American intelligence, and that, "We always share information with anybody alleged to be in close contact with al-Qaeda with the United States." The New York Times reported on November 15, 2004, that "American officals who spoke on condition of anonymity...say [Arar] confessed under torture in Syria that he had gone to Afghanistan for terrorist training, named his instructors and gave other intimate details." In another known case of rendition to Syria, U.S. officials told Time Magazine that American agents in Damascus were submitting written questions for Syrian interrogators to ask al-Qaeda suspect Muhammad Haydar Zammar, and receiving reports of the interrogation sessions. Time reported in July 2002 that "State Department officials like the arrangement because it insulates the U.S. government from any torture the Syrians may be applying to Zammar." Zammar, like Arar, Almalki, and El-Maati, was held in an underground, tomb-like cell in the Palestine Branch.
According to the Arar Commission's recent report (specifically, pp. 157-160 of this PDF), the U.S. faxed Canadian authorities a series of questions about Arar on October 3, 2002. The Canadian police replied on October 4 that "a link analysis has yet to be completed on ARAR and while he has had contact with many individuals of interest to this project we are unable to indicate links to al-Qaida."
Despite this,the decision deporting Arar to Syria states that "Arar is a member of the designated foreign terrorist organization know as al-Qaeda." The only unclassified evidence that the INS gave for this finding were that Arar had admitted to associating with Abdullah Almalki and his brother Nazih Almalki; and that Arar had admitted to knowing Ahmad El-Maati.
There was also a Classified Addendum to the INS decision. According to the Arar Commission Report (p. 205 of the PDF I linked to above), "The Commission does not have a copy of the Classified Addendum, and none of the Canadian officials who testified at the Inquiry have seen it." The U.S. government invoked "states secrets privilege" to prevent this same classified addendum from being disclosed in Arar v. Ashcroft, arguing that it "contains numerous references to intelligence sources and methods" and "information that may have been received from foreign governments pursuant to an understanding of confidentiality."
Obviously, I have no way of knowing for sure what the Classified Addendum says--it's classified. I very strongly suspect, though, that it contains reports of El-Maati's and Almalki's interrogations in Syria.
Torture is bad enough. Detention without a hearing, without a chance to see the evidence against you, without a real opportunity to prove your innocence, is bad enough. When you combine the two, though, you get something exponentially worse: Blind alleys. Shattered lives. Allies betrayed. Enemies' worst lies about you proved true. A policy that is as stupid as it is immoral.
(edited for typos and formatting)