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January 13, 2004


I'm thinking that, moral questions aside, any information obtained by torture is highly suspect and probably not substantially more useful than no information at all.

Moral eyeglasses back on, this sort of thing is something I'd like to actively discourage. Useful or not.

Can anyone in fact think of any decent reasons as to why this was a useful course of action for the CIA?

Short of just plain getting rid of him, of course, it seems like a Very Bad Plan.

A month or two ago, there was an excellent creepy article in Atlantic Magazine called The Dark Art of Interrogation. I highly recommend it.

It basically says the same thing as Slartibartfast above - information gained through torture is useless, as the victim will say anything. It's used more to obtain confessions or incrimations of others.

I don't believe that Arar was shipped to Syria for information. What would be the point? Even assuming information was retrieved, Syria isn't exactly an ally, so the info would be double suspect.

My own guess is that it was a stupid mistake, compounded with a lack of compassion about the man's fate. Add to the fact that anti-Arab bigotry probably allowed them to think he was first and foremost a citizen of Syria rather than a "white nation" like Canada. And add to that the offically-approved disregard of international law that allows them to ignore the fact that he isn't officially "in" the US when he was arrested.

Something doesn't make sense, that's for sure. I originally thought he was probably deported to Syria because they suspected him of something and he happened to have dual citizenship, and they figured he could less harm in Syria than in Canada.

But I don't think that anymore. I would still lean towards "huge screwup," but I just don't what to make of the fact that it was approved at such a high level, by the second ranking person in the justice department--who was acting as the first-ranking person. And then you have this page, from amnesty Canada, which breaks down the case day by day using Arar's statement:
1) his deportation was approved after the Canadian consul first got involved (as well as a lawyer)
2) and after he said he would be tortured.
3) he was held for quite a while--close to two weeks--before being deported.
4) Then you have this sequence:

"Arar is placed on a private jet. He is the only passenger. They fly to Washington, and the people with him disembark, and a new team gets on the plane.

Arar overhears the men talking on the phone saying that Syria is refusing to take him directly, but Jordan will take him.

They fly to Portland, to Rome, and then to Amman, Jordan."

"The jet lands in Amman, Jordan at 3:00 a.m. There are six or seven Jordanians waiting for him. Arar is blindfolded and chained and put into a van. He is forced to bend his head down in the back seat. He is beaten intensely every time he tries to move or talk.

Thirty minutes later they arrive at a building where they remove his blindfold and ask him routine questions, before taking him to a cell.

In the afternoon they take his fingerprints and photographs and he is blindfolded and put in another van. He is told he is going back to Montreal.

About forty-five minutes later, they stop and he is put in a different car. He is forced to keep his head down, and he is beaten again.

Over an hour later they arrive at what Arar believes was the Syrian border. He is handed over to a new team of men, and put in a new car which travels for another three hours to Damascus."

And you have the Syrian government telling the Post that they took him as a favor to the U.S. And this, from the Amnesty chronology:
"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."

It seems so out of proportion to the information he was confronted with.

Maybe someone named him--truly or falsely--in an interrogation? Maybe a case of mistaken identity? I'm more confused than when I began.

I should say, the more I think about it, the more it has do with Abdullah Almalki, the man whose signature on the lease they confronted him with, and whom he later saw in the Syrian prison. (Almalki is probably still in the Syrian prison; he was arrested in Syria a month before Arar.)

This Globe and Mail article gives more information:

I'd better do another post, hadn't I? Well, not today. I have to go bake cookies.

I have to wonder if the mounties had a role in this, other than supplying info to US intelligence.

Hopefully, an investigation will uncover who did what to whom. If we ever get one.

It basically says the same thing as Slartibartfast above - information gained through torture is useless, as the victim will say anything. It's used more to obtain confessions or incrimations of others.

My recollection of the article (it's been a while, and I drink quite a bit) is that its conclusion wasn't so pat.

In fact, I think the author concluded that the threat of torture was quite effective at inducing individuals to provide real information. Ironically, though, the usefulness of torture decreases once it's applied: subjects either make up anything to make it stop, or they discover, in a perverse way, that the torture isn't nearly as bad as they thought it would be and clam up. The author's conclusion was that torture/the threat of torture should remain illegal, but that an individual torturer in an appropriate case (there's a bomb somewhere in LA . . . ) should be able to plead the defense of necessity.

Here's the money quote from the extraordinary Atlantico Monthly article that Stu links above:

In other words, when the ban [on torture] is lifted, there is no restraining lazy, incompetent, or sadistic interrogators. As long as it remains illegal to torture, the interrogator who employs coercion must accept the risk. He must be prepared to stand up in court, if necessary, and defend his actions. Interrogators will still use coercion because in some cases they will deem it worth the consequences. This does not mean they will necessarily be punished. In any nation the decision to prosecute a crime is an executive one. A prosecutor, a grand jury, or a judge must decide to press charges, and the chances that an interrogator in a genuine ticking-bomb case would be prosecuted, much less convicted, is very small. As of this writing, Wolfgang Daschner, the Frankfurt deputy police chief, has not been prosecuted for threatening to torture Jakob von Metzler's kidnapper, even though he clearly broke the law.

. . . .

If interrogators step over the line from coercion to outright torture, they should be held personally responsible. But no interrogator is ever going to be prosecuted for keeping Khalid Sheikh Mohammed awake, cold, alone, and uncomfortable. Nor should he be.

"The author's conclusion was that torture/the threat of torture should remain illegal, but that an individual torturer in an appropriate case (there's a bomb somewhere in LA . . . ) should be able to plead the defense of necessity."

That's my conclusion too (independently.)

One of the things about the necessity defense is that you can't only have a good faith believe that it could prevent a greater harm--you have to be right.

You also have prosecutorial discretion, leniency in sentencing, and the pardon power to take care of that hypothetical about the nuclear warhead somewhere in Manhattan.

Meanwhile, the most famous prof. at my school suggests "torture warrants." Honestly. Dershowitz ought to know better.

From the article:

Even if severe pain does elicit information, it can be false, which is particularly troublesome to interrogators seeking intelligence rather than a confession. Much useful information is time-sensitive, and running down false leads or arresting innocents wastes time.

By similar logic, the manual discourages threatening a prisoner with death. As a tactic "it is often found to be worse than useless," the manual says, because the sense of despair it induces can make the prisoner withdraw into depression—or, in some cases, see an honorable way out of his predicament.

What the article calls "smacky-face" doesn't produce useful results. The disorientation and pschological methods detailed in the article seems to produce the best results (IE accurate information from the victim). And from Arar's description, he was brutalized for confessions rather than interrogated for information.

so is no one arguing with my conclusions because they're impeccably researched and argued or these posts are too long and repetitive?

on second thought, don't answer that....

Well, I can't begin to even hope to argue this one, even if I wanted to. I said that you owned this topic, and I meant it. :)


Perhaps Deshowitz has a perspective that requires investigation? Perhaps if you named the number of innocents that you are willing to have die in support, the calculation could become meaniningful. Or is it all just theory and therefore insusceptible to reason? You posit a problem without solution, without certainty one falls to the reasonable man conclusion. Where do you think the search for "truth" lies in this instance? How many lives will "truth" count for? Or how many will you sacrifice in order to find "truth"?

Katharine, one reason why I have not been arguing these posts - not even, though I really should, to praise you for your excellent writing and sound research - is because Mahar Arar's case came as no surprise.

A British charity-worker was kidnapped from his home and taken to Afghanistan, where he was tortured. He has spent over two years in solitary confinement. He has been threatened with death. There is no evidence, none, that he has committed any crime.

I'm speaking of Moazzam Begg, of course: kidnapped from the house where he was staying with his wife and children in Pakistan, taken to Bagram Airbase, flown from there to Guantanamo Bay, and informed that either he confessed to terrorist activity and pled guilty at the kangaroo trial prepared for him, or he would be found guilty and condemned to death.

That is, IMO, as bad as what happened to Maher Arar: there was no case of even dual citizenship. Moazzam Begg is a British citizen. The Brits are (at the moment) closer American allies than the Canadians. The sole "evidence", besides whatever Moazzam Begg may have confessed to under torture, is a receipt with the name "Moazzam Begg" on it found in an al-Qaida base: which is as much indication of guilt as finding a receipt with the name "Katharine Harris" on it and concluding therefore that a randomly chosen Katharine Harris must be guilty.

Of course Maher Arar's case is dreadful. I hope the Canadian government intends to push for whoever is responsible for sending him there to lose his job, at minimum: I'd like to see the person responsible tried for the crime they committed, but I think it unlikely anyone in the Bush administration is going to suffer the appropriate legal penalties until after November 2004. Still, we can but hope.

It's dreadful: but it's not surprising. It's how I expect this administration to behave.

Atleast we know who started all the rendition problems now. It appears that it wasn't some evil plot created by the BusHitler regime.


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