November 19, 2003

At the Bottom of the Slippery Slope

Unfogged writes:

Unfogged: Chun writes,

If you live in the U.S., you bear responsibility for a government that tortures people.

And, if you read the article he links, it's pretty clear that no one disputes the facts: the US grabbed a Canadian citizen transiting through JFK and sent him to Syria, where he was tortured for 10 months, before being sent--unconvicted, uncharged--to Canada.

Officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the Arar case fits the profile of a covert CIA "extraordinary rendition" -- the practice of turning over low-level, suspected terrorists to foreign intelligence services, some of which are known to torture prisoners.

I challenge anyone to make a distinction between the morality and propriety of torturing Mr. Arar in Toledo and sending him to be tortured in Syria. What fictions let people sleep at night!

And please note, whether Mr. Arar in fact had any ties to Al Qaeda is irrelevent to whether his "rendering" is outrageous. First, because his rendering occurred without even minimal due process. Second, because our government hasn't been authorized in any democratic way to use torture--it hasn't even asked for permission.

Also note, there is no need to make a slippery slope argument here. What happened is already at the bottom of any reasonable person's slope. The government of the United States grabbed someone and, without charge or conviction, sent that person to be tortured for almost a year.

I'm well aware that the mistreatment of an Arab-Canadian isn't an issue of obvious political import in the US. But here are the members of the Senate Intelligence Committee and here's the House. I promise I'll contact my representatives, you really should too.

There is, of course, much more on this case, particularly in the Canadian press.


And Unfogged updates itself:

Unfogged: Here's a follow-up on the case of Maher Arar, the Canadian citizen shipped for torture by the US to Syria.

A senior Justice Department official personally approved sending a Syrian-born Canadian citizen suspected of terrorist links to Syria last year after consulting with CIA officials, according to U.S. officials ... Then-Deputy Attorney General Larry D. Thompson, in his capacity as acting attorney general, signed the highly unusual order....

Unfortunately, the article doesn't try to reconcile these two statements.

The U.S. immigration law used to carry out the "expedited removal" of Arar strictly prohibits sending anyone, even on national security grounds, to a country where "it is more likely than not that they will be tortured," said a U.S. official familiar with the law applied in the Arar case.

...and...

In response to questions, a Justice Department spokesman said "the removal of Mr. Arar was accomplished after interagency consultation and in full compliance with the law and with all relevant international treaties and conventions."

One does, however, have one's suspicions about which statement is likely true.

This latest revelation seems to be in the interest of "explaining" what happened to the Canadian government, which has protested. Whether Thompson becomes the scapegoat while this practice continues in secrecy...I guess we may never know.

via chun

God help us. Impeach Bush now.

Posted by DeLong at November 19, 2003 04:25 PM | TrackBack

Comments

God save the United States of America. From itself.

Posted by: Dick Thompson on November 19, 2003 04:40 PM

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What earthly good do you think it would do to impeach Bush? All of his people will still think that what was done to Maher Arar was right.

Posted by: Frank Wilhoit on November 19, 2003 05:01 PM

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Frank,

At some point, winning the argument with Bush cadres is no longer the issue. Preventing them from doing bad things is the issue, no matter how oblivious they are to the badness of their acts.

...unless you are drawing the distinction between impeachment and removal. In that case, I can only say that I don't think Brad meant impeach, then play nice.

We cannot be surprised at the Arar case. Due process was the first thing to go, once "bad guys" began being rounded up after September 11("bad guys" in the Ed Meese sense - if they have been arrested, it's because the are guilty). As Brad noted earlier (linking to Tacitus), we are violating human rights in Iraq on a larger scale. That we are doing it selectively outside Iraq should not be a surprise. What I'm afraid is going to sadden me greatly very soon is that, just as happened during Vietnam and Nicaragua (to mention two), justifications will follow fast and thick on news of these acts.

This is not the country I started hearing about in kindergarten. Freedom, democracy, fair play, humanity. I know that the nobility we are spoon fed as children is never true, that North Korean children are spoon fed the same thing. But lordy I miss being able to close my eyes for five minutes and think that nobility might be possible, or that our leaders could still remember the Unites States they learned about in their kindergarten.

Posted by: K Harris on November 19, 2003 05:24 PM

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"God help us. Impeach Bush now."

Before we proceed with the hyperventilating, might I ask how likely it is that an administration that has repeatedly branded Syria a sponsor of terrorism, that has made not-so-thinly-veiled threats to overthrow the Syrian regime, and that has only recently endorsed an out-of-the-blue incursion by Israel deep into Syria's airspace, would ever trust the Syrians to "interrogate" a suspected Al-Qaeda member on their behalf?

In short, on the basis of logical consistency alone, I don't buy this story. If there's one thing that this administration has been consistent about, that has been its' distaste for the Syrians, and one doesn't go sending off potentially valuable intelligence assets for interrogation by those one considers enemies. I have to say that I smell politically motivated paranoia here.

Posted by: Abiola Lapite on November 19, 2003 05:28 PM

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"an administration that has repeatedly branded Syria a sponsor of terrorism"

Besides, if we invaded Syria, we'd find all of Saddam's WMDs.

Posted by: No One on November 19, 2003 05:39 PM

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Abiola Lapite:

Perhaps you missed Seymour Hersh's article a while back in the "New Yorker" on Syria's excellent intelligence cooperation with the U.S.A., since Syria has been fighting Islamic extremist for quite some time and has extensive intelligence on them, up until the project for the Iraq War came to the fore.

Posted by: john c. halasz on November 19, 2003 05:54 PM

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"In short, on the basis of logical consistency alone, I don't buy this story."

You Are Wrong.

This isn't something somebody has just cooked up, the US press has just started to notice it but this case has been regular news in the Canadian press (which I read) for many weeks now. It has now reached the point of high level diplomacy between Canada and the US. Nobody from the US administration has ever disputed the basic facts - that Arar somehow got on a potentially-linked-to-terrorism watch list, was stopped on his way through the US and questioned for two weeks, and was then deported into Syrian custody despite being a Canadian citizen and resident. He was born in Syria and holds Syrian citizenship as well, and this was the "pretext" for deporting him to Syria rather than Canada for questioning. As far as I know nobody in the US administration has denied that the intent of deporting him to Syria was that he be questioned by the Syrians - they sure weren't just deciding he shouldn't be in the US and deporting him (he's a Canadian resident, and was traveling on a connection through the US rather than entering it).

This really is exactly as bad as it sounds. The Canadian government is already publicly threatening to stop all counterterrorism intelligence sharing with the US.

Posted by: Ian Montgomerie on November 19, 2003 07:05 PM

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There are also two Americans (the shoe bomber and one other) who have been held incommunicado without legal counsel for over a year. At least one of them was arrested in the U.S. for acts committed in the U.S.

When you consider that this is happening during a time of national unity with no domestic unrest while the President has not really been recieving any significant resistance, you have to wonder what he would do if he thought he had domestic enemies.

A lot of the provisions of the Patriot Act and other similiar acts (some passed under Clinton) haven't been used to any great extent yet.

This is an issue on which I think that the black-helicopter libertarians aren't anywhere near as far wrong as people think. Unfortunately many libertarians, notably the wrongly-esteemed Jane Galt, seem to think that low taxes are more important than civil liberties. This seems to be gradually changing, but you have to ask why ALL of the libertarians haven't been screaming bloody murder for the last couple years.

Posted by: Zizka on November 19, 2003 07:35 PM

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1. Sending anyone to Syria to be tortured is evil.

2. Impeaching Bush gets you Cheney. This achieves what?

3. The fact is, the country isn't going to impeach Bush even for lying to us about the causes of war, which is about as low as you get. Unless fixing presidential elections is the lowest, in which case...

4. So the only productive things to do now are write checks to the Democrat(s) of your choice, and volunteer in campaigns.

Posted by: Michael Froomkin on November 19, 2003 08:22 PM

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"Impeaching Bush gets you Cheney. This achieves what?"
Justice? Impeaching him, joining the ICC, and sending him to the Hague would be the most just course of all. At some point shouldn't war criminals be brough to account for their crimes? The list of violaions grows weekly, and they're not just corner cases, they're egregious, obvious, "we don't think it the Geneva convention applies to us because we're America" violations.

Posted by: Peter MacLeod on November 19, 2003 08:32 PM

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Oftentimes, we read news that makes us proud to be Americans.

Posted by: bad Jim on November 19, 2003 11:53 PM

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Terrible, yes. On the other hand, Syria is on the UN SC, so must be internationally presumed utterly innocent of torture.
You can't really accuse Syria of violating human rights w/o accepting that UN SC approval of US actions is morally irrelevant; and neither can Canada.

Wouldn't it be a big surprise if McCain switched parties and there was a McCain/Dean ticket?

Posted by: Tom Grey on November 20, 2003 01:41 AM

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"The Canadian government is already publicly threatening to stop all counterterrorism intelligence sharing with the US."

This may be rather hypocritical of the Canadian government, if true, (I am Canadian) as it is not clear that Canada didn't have a role in Arar being sent to Syria. Some of the "information" used in the decision may well have been from Canadian counterterrorism sources.

Posted by: Stan Jones on November 20, 2003 03:56 AM

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"The Canadian government is already publicly threatening to stop all counterterrorism intelligence sharing with the US."

This may be rather hypocritical of the Canadian government, if true, (I am Canadian) as it is not clear that Canada didn't have a role in Arar being sent to Syria. Some of the "information" used in the decision may well have been from Canadian counterterrorism sources.

Posted by: Stan Jones on November 20, 2003 03:56 AM

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"Impeaching him, joining the ICC, and sending him to the Hague would be the most just course of all. At some point shouldn't war criminals be brough to account for their crimes?"

Yes and sending Bush to the ICC would be one solution. On the other hand, I hope you agree that Clinton should get the same or worse, for having launched a war (against the ex-Yugoslavia) without even having followed the laws of his own nation (i.e. not getting Congressional approval). Bush as least could fall back on some old U.N. resolutions for justification in attacking Iraq. Clinton just went ahead and bombed away.

And I don't say this to let Bush off the hook in any way. By all means send him to the ICC. But if you aren't prepared to do the same to Clinton, I don't understand the principles on which you are basing your view - other than expediency.

Posted by: anon on November 20, 2003 04:46 AM

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The Candadian govt. says that they provided some of the information which put him on the terrorist watch list, but they had nothing to do with having him deported, and in fact were not notified that he had been until afterwards.

I believe he was actually "disappeared" for a while from US custody before we acknowledged what we'd done.

Posted by: julia on November 20, 2003 05:32 AM

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Abiola, there was plenty of press in the months after 9/11 talking about Syrian cooperation with the U.S. There were also reports about the U.S. sending suspected Al Queda operatives to their countries of origin. This report would tend to confirm those earlier reports.

Posted by: Stan on November 20, 2003 06:08 AM

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That's outrageous. I'll write to my reps, and I'll stop defending Bush justice.

It *does* remind me of the famous Clinton effort to get Bin Laden sent to Saudi Arabia, but that's no exuse. You're right that this is lower than any reasonably person could have imagined this would go.

It also hits my pet peeve about the Bush admin (and I'm a Bush fan) - there seems to be no capacity for self-critical analysis, and no mechanism in place to fix problems like this. Aargh.

Posted by: J Mann on November 20, 2003 07:03 AM

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Julia says "The Canadian govt. says that they provided some of the information which put him on the terrorist watch list, but they had nothing to do with having him deported, and in fact were not notified that he had been until afterwards."

- but it is far from clear that the Canadian govt. is blameless here, and we should not take their word for events any more than we would Mr. Ashcroft's. They (Canadian government )have been strenuously resisting calls for a public inquiry, and indications are that they would like nothing more than to forget the whole thing ever happened.

My own suspicion is that there is plenty of guilt to spread around in this matter.

Posted by: Tom Slee on November 20, 2003 07:06 AM

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Maybe impeachment of Bush is not possible on the political issue, but a criminal issue is a separate matter. This isn't my area of law, but I think that there is some basis for a criminal investigation of Mr. Thompson's extradition of Arar. 18 U.S.C. section 242 states:

Whoever, under color of any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom, willfully subjects any person in any State, Territory, Commonwealth, Possession, or District to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or to different punishments, pains, or penalties, on account of such person being an alien, or by reason of his color, or race, than are prescribed for the punishment of citizens, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both; and if bodily injury results from the acts committed in violation of this section . . . shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both. . . .

There are two sections of the statute which may apply. First is the section which pertains to deprivations of civil rights generally. Prima facie, if Thompson signed an order in violation of the immigration laws extraditing Arar to Syria for torture, he's violated this provision, likely wilfully.

Now, as I understand it, before 1994, the first section of the statute applied only to inhabitants of states, territories, &c., and made it unlawful for them to *wilfully* deprive them of consitutional or legal rights. It was then changed to include *any person* in any state, territory, &c. This would seem to indicate that Arar's nationality and temporary status in the U.S. would have no bearing. (Although, under the immigration law, he might not be deemed to have entered the U.S. at all. . . .)

Second, there is some dispute whether the injured party must have had a legal right which was violated. (The law, to my understanding, is mixed on the point.) If so, it might be argued that while Thompson had a legal duty not to send Arar to Syria, Arar had no legal right not to be sent. I don't know enough about immigration law to say for sure, but I think this is correct. Nonetheless, I think this isn't too strong of a concern.

The second section of the statute deals with subjecting aliens to different levels of pain or punishment than others. Here, we may be on to something, but I've not seen much of anything on this provision.

There must be someone out there with some expertise in this area of law who could say whether framing the issue as a criminal matter is or isn't a good idea.

Posted by: Robert Tennyson on November 20, 2003 07:12 AM

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I understand that Arar asked to be deported to Canada, where his wife and children also live. For whatever reason, Jordan was the preferred destination of the U.S. authorities.

A few months ago I participated in a procession to the U.S. embassy in Ottawa with Arar supporters and Amnesty International members. Arar's wife attempted to petition the release of her husband to a senior embassy official but was rebuffed at the door. She ended up taping the drawing made by her daughter to the embassy fence.

Posted by: Mark on November 20, 2003 07:39 AM

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sounds like kidnapping to me

Posted by: heretic on November 20, 2003 08:06 AM

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Article 3 of the Convention Against Torture:

Article 3

1. No State Party shall expel, return ("refouler") or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.

2. For the purpose of determining whether there are such grounds, the competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations including, where applicable, the existence in the State concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights.

Bush's father signed the CAT, the Senate ratified it and the enabling legislation has been signed into law. It sounds to my layman's ear that whoever sent Maher Arar to Syria committed a crime.

Posted by: Randy Paul on November 20, 2003 09:13 AM

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Article 3 of the Convention Against Torture:

Article 3

1. No State Party shall expel, return ("refouler") or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.

2. For the purpose of determining whether there are such grounds, the competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations including, where applicable, the existence in the State concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights.

Bush's father signed the CAT, the Senate ratified it and the enabling legislation has been signed into law. It sounds to my layman's ear that whoever sent Maher Arar to Syria committed a crime.

Posted by: Randy Paul on November 20, 2003 09:14 AM

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The Arar case is very sad. An innocent man was disappeared to a prison in Syria for 10 months.
He was a suspected terrorist supporter and in the name of convenience the United States Governemnt deported him without charge to a country that would torture the information out of him.

It seems like certain branches of the Canadian Governemnt, the RCMP and CSIS, aided and abetted the INS and the FBI in this crime by providing the documents of suspicion - surveillance photos of Arar meeting with a guy who knew a guy who was Al Queda. These Canadian agencies felt that they were doing the right thing. It is unclear whether or not they knew that Arar would be deported to Syria. Canada's department of Foregn Affaris did not know. The Candian consular official who had contact with Arar in NJ was flabergasted when the INS informed him that Arar was "gone". The consular official was not told where Arar had gone to on grounds of "National Security"

It is wrong. It is a subversion of due process and of the values we hold dear. But it is the kind of mistake a government will make when it believes there are terrorist agents living among us.
What if Arar was guilty? What would you think about it then? I think that is why there has not been more outrage in Canada. There is a nagging fear, what if the guy was Al Queda?

Canada will continue to share intelligence info, it is not in our interest to stop. My hope is that our security agencies will be a little less naif in future, about what the US will do to terrorist suspects. In future I would like to think that we trust ourselves enough to confine and interrogate suspects at home.

I agree this is not about impeachment and such a call is a little ummm premature to say the least. But to dismiss this story because it is "implosible" puts a little too much faith in the authorities. I recommend a dose of trust for them and a dose of scepticism for you.

Posted by: Scott McArthur on November 20, 2003 12:27 PM

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It is worth pointing out, since few Americans probably know, that, in Canada, the Bush administration is easily the most despised American administration since hostilities ended in 1815.

What would Americans think of a supposedly friendly government that deported one of their citizens to be tortured in North Korea?

What would Americans think of an ambassador from an ostensible ally who threatened them with protectionism if they didn't participate in a war 80% of the American people were against? [Mr. Celluci's threat was revealed to be personally directed by Ms. Rice in retaliation to an appearance by the Prime Minister on Mr. Stephanopoulos' show.]

It is true that Republican administrations are generally less popular than Democratic ones in Canada (this has been the case since the 1950s -- Canadians liked Ike; in every subsequent Presidential election, including 1972 and 1984, Canadians preferred the Democratic candidate). Certainly there is some kernel of anti-Americanism here no matter what the administration or the policies of the day. But no one could have predicted in November 2000 or in October 2001 how despised the Bush administration would become.

Posted by: Gareth on November 20, 2003 02:16 PM

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During a previous national psychotic episode, we interned a large number of Americans who had ancestors born in Japan.

Did we torture any of them?

If the torture angle is a modern innovation, one could make a case that we've outdone ourselves.

Of course Ashcroft should be removed. So where are our Japanese-American legislators?

john

Posted by: John Faughnan on November 20, 2003 06:41 PM

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Is the Jose Padilla case and the doctrine of 'enemy combatant' gaining much publicity in the US?

Posted by: Ritu on November 21, 2003 12:48 AM

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It is dangerous to confuse children with angels.

Posted by: Bradford Evonne Lack on December 10, 2003 08:14 PM

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The meaning of life is that it stops.

Posted by: Still Doug on January 9, 2004 11:44 PM

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