Today, the Canadian Prime Minister apologized to Maher Arar:
"Prime Minister Stephen Harper formally apologized Friday to Maher Arar for the torture he suffered in a Syrian prison and said the government would pay him and his family $10.5-million, plus legal fees, to compensate them for the "terrible ordeal."
"On behalf of the government of Canada, I wish to apologize to you ... and your family for any role that Canadian officials may have played in the terrible ordeal that all of you experienced in 2002-2003," Mr. Harper said in a letter to Mr. Arar.
The Prime Minister promised to do everything possible to ensure that the issues raised in the report of a judicial inquiry into the Arar case are addressed.
The government cannot change what is past, he told a news conference in Ottawa. Mr. Arar was detained in the United States in 2002 and flown to Syria where he was jailed and tortured after the RCMP wrongly labelled him an Islamic extremist.
"But we can make changes to ... [reduce the chances] that something like this will ever happen again.""
Maher Arar's response:
“The government of Canada and the prime minister have acknowledged my innocence,” the 36-year-old former software engineer calmly told a news conference. “This means the world to me.”
He thanked his wife for the “courage and strength she has shown all along” and the Canadian public for standing behind him.
“Without the support of the Canadian people, I may never have come home and I may never have been able to stay strong and push for the truth,” he said.
This is not the first action the Canadian government has taken in response to the Arar case. They launched a full-scale inquiry that eventually produced a comprehensive report (various volumes available at the site just linked to.) The head of the RCMP both apologized and resigned over Arar's case.
As I understand it, Canada's role in Arar's detention was twofold. First, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police provided information, some of it baseless and misleading, to US authorities. Among other things, it described him and another person as an "Islamic Extremist individuals suspected of being linked to the Al Qaeda terrorist movement", a claim for which the Canadian investigation into this whole affair says they had "no basis" (p. 13 (pdf).) Second, they didn't do enough to try to free him once he was in detention.
We, by contrast, actually detained him and shipped him off to Syria, where he was kept in a three foot by six foot underground cell and tortured for ten months. Unlike the Canadian government, we have not initiated an investigation of how we ended up shipping an innocent engineer off to be tortured in Syria. To my knowledge, no one has resigned. We have not apologized, nor have we made any effort at all to help Mr. Arar put his life back together after we broke it apart. Here's what Alberto Gonzales had to say after the Canadian government's report appeared:
"QUESTION: Canada, as you know, released a long-awaited report yesterday on the treatment of Maher Arar. Since the Department was the agency that allowed his removal to Syria in which he was then tortured, doesn't the Department owe him an apology?
ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: Well, we were not responsible for his removal to Syria, I'm not aware that he was tortured, and I haven't read the Commission report. Mr. Arar was deported under our immigration laws. He was initially detained because his name appeared on terrorist lists, and he was deported according to our laws.
Some people have characterized his removal as a rendition. That is not what happened here. It was a deportation. And even if it were a rendition, we understand as a government what our obligations are with respect to anyone who is rendered by this government to another country, and that is that we seek to satisfy ourselves that they will not be tortured. And we do that in every case. And if in fact he had been rendered to Syria, we would have sought those same kind of assurances, as we do in every case.
QUESTION: From the report, he had no connections with any terrorist groups, and he has sought an apology from the U.S. government.
ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: Again, I haven't read the report."
The DoJ amended this the next day:
"On Wednesday, a Justice Department spokesman said Mr. Gonzales had intended to make only a narrow point: that deportations are now handled by the Department of Homeland Security, not the Department of Justice.
The spokesman, Charles Miller, said the attorney general forgot that at the time of Mr. Arar's deportation, such matters were still handled by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which was part of the Department of Justice. (...)
Maria C. LaHood, Mr. Arar's lawyer at the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, called Mr. Gonzales' comments ''unbelievable.''
''I had hoped that they would actually step up and say, 'We made a mistake, we accept the report's findings, we clear Mr. Arar's name and we apologize,' '' Ms. LaHood said."
I would have hoped so to. It's what a decent government would have done, and it's what our government would do if this administration had any interest in living up to our country's ideals.
Instead, they are not only continuing to deny Maher Arar the right to fly in US airspace, but being gratuitously rude to Canada about it:
"American officials recently gave Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day a look at the information they say warrants Arar's continued presence on U.S. watch lists.
Day insisted there was nothing to suggest Arar is a security risk.
U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins said it was presumptuous of Day to tell the United States who is allowed into its country. Wilkins was under orders from Washington to deliver the retort, said the State Department official."
Emphasis added. -- Think about this. We kidnap one of their citizens and send him off to be tortured. We refuse to admit that there was anything wrong with what we did. We won't allow him to enter the US or to fly over it, and we won't clear his name. When Canada rather understandably protests, some genius in Washington orders our ambassador to be gratuitously rude.
It's a wonder we have any allies left at this point.
Here's one Canadian newspaper's response:
"The Americans seem to be saying they will ban whomever they like and they won't give reasons, and that they will deport people to be tortured if that's what they feel like doing. Simultaneously, they seem to be saying Canada must share every bit of information it has about anyone who proposes to cross the border.
Well, Canada doesn't have to hand over our information if the U.S. doesn't take our concerns seriously.
That is why Harper should tell U.S. President George Bush that this lopsided take on North American security does not work for us.
In addition, the parliamentary committees that oversee Canada-U.S. security information sharing should review the entire range of co-operation in this area.
Both countries undeniably have an interest in working together to thwart terror. But if the Americans are going to be heavy-handed, we need to be correspondingly cautious."
Can we blame them?