Please visit the new home of Majikthise at bigthink.com/blogs/focal-point.

« Tuesday owlets | Main | George Allen, self-hating Jew »

September 19, 2006

Canadian wrongfully kidnapped, tortured, panel finds

An official review panel completely vindicated a Canadian citizen who was kidnapped and tortured on wrongful suspicion of terrorist ties:

The report, released in Ottawa, was the result of a 2 1/2-year inquiry that represented one of the first public investigations into mistakes made as part of the United States' "extraordinary rendition" program, which has secretly spirited suspects to foreign countries for interrogation by often brutal methods.

The inquiry, which focused on the Canadian intelligence services, found that agents who were under pressure to find terrorists after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, falsely labeled an Ottawa computer consultant, Maher Arar, as a dangerous radical. They asked U.S. authorities to put him and his wife, a university economist, on the al-Qaeda "watchlist," without justification, the report said.

Arar was also listed as "an Islamic extremist individual" who was in the Washington area on Sept. 11. The report concluded that he had no involvement in Islamic extremism and was on business in San Diego that day, said the head of the inquiry commission, Ontario Justice Dennis O'Connor.

Arar, now 36, was detained by U.S. authorities as he changed planes in New York on Sept. 26, 2002. He was held for questioning for 12 days, then flown by jet to Jordan and driven to Syria. He was beaten, forced to confess to having trained in Afghanistan -- where he never has been -- and then kept in a coffin-size dungeon for 10 months before he was released, the Canadian inquiry commission found.

O'Connor concluded that "categorically there is no evidence" that Arar did anything wrong or was a security threat. [WaPo]

The case of Maher Arar illustrates many of the potential pitfalls of the US approach to counter-terrorism.

First off, when you dispense with all legal safeguards, you increase the chance of kidnapping and torturing innocents.

Furthermore, Canadian authorities are now acutely aware that a bad tip could result in one of their own citizens being kidnapped and tortured. Agents may be less than eager to share tips and hunches with their American colleagues, even if the routine exchange of information would be valuable.

The American policy of extraordinary rendition poses an ethical dilemma for Canadian officials. Is it ethical to pass along inconclusive or fragmentary evidence about innocent people, knowing that these tips might get one of your citizens kidnapped and tortured?

I predict that extraordinary rendition will have a chilling effect on Canadian officials--to the detriment of the US and counter-terrorism generally.

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
https://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d8341c61e653ef00d8343a18a053ef

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Canadian wrongfully kidnapped, tortured, panel finds:

» The War on Misbehavior from PunkAssBlog.com
Billy, can you come downstairs for a minute? Your father and I would like to talk to you. Billy popped the pause button on his controller and flicked a glance at the oversized digits hanging above his TV. Gotta head over to Derri... [Read More]

» MAHER ARAR, OR: FAILING TO WIN THE WAR ON TERROR from Peaktalk
… Maher Arar, a Canadian national of Syrian descent, changing flights in the US in September 2002, detained and deported to Syria by US authorities where he was held captive and tortured before being released. He is now back in... [Read More]

Comments

But...but...torture makes people feel tough!

Seriously, the entire torture debate seems to circle around scare tactics and the insinuation that the only reason to oppose torture is squeamishness. Even if one were to stipulate that occasionally torture yields usable information, and one felt comfortable tossing the moral questions out the window (which Bush, Yoo and company are entirely happy to do), the fact remains that torture does not occur in a vacuum. It's a practical impossibility to guarantee that only people who have information are those who will be tortured, and even if that were theoretically possible, the current implementation of this policy doesn't seem to even want to bother with such trifles, preferring a dragnet approach, in the literal meaning of the term. Furthermore, since the stories that torture victims can tell of their plight are considered to be bad PR for the United States, even those who are innocent of anything tend to stay in lawless detentions centers indefinitely. The upshot of all of this is a complete erosion of the moral standing of the United States government internationally.

While the rubes in Hicksville who put Bush in charge of everything don't consider that to be a bad idea, the fact remains that, in the long term, no nation can survive being universally condemned for villainy for any extended period of time. OK, it's true that in the past nations could indeed survive for very long periods of time like this, but the survival was accompanied by tremendous internal rot and, in any case, I would argue that the pace of history has increased tremendously in the past 150 years.

Just what is going to be the future of the United States as we've pissed away our moral standing and we have to face problems like the gradual (hopefully) disappearance of the reserves of fossil fuels? The Armageddon/Rapture crowd really doesn't give a crap about that, but the rest of us would like a plan that doesn't require Jesus to show up and save our asses in 15 years.

A strong post about a very disturbing case.

I hope they plan to pay him several millions of dollars in restitution. If not, he's clearly within his rights to sue their pants off.

Is anyone else troubled by the fact that people like Lindsay feel compelled to write reasonable, rational, pragmatic arguments against torture?

Isn't the fact that it's morally repellant enough?

Unfortunately, Count Zero, he *isn't* within his rights to sue their pants off (though he should be). From Wikipedia:

On February 16, 2006, Brooklyn District Court Judge David Trager dismissed Arar's lawsuit against members of the George W. Bush administration.[9] Although Trager discounted legal arguments by the defendants, he based his decision on national security grounds, not legal reasons.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maher_Arar

Trystero

Torture is repellant, but I would not be surprised if terrorists frequently claim "torture" when no torture has taken place. And, frankly, there is a line between legitimate "tough tactics" that we should be using and torture.

This is a disturbing case. I would hope it to be unique.

Isn't the fact that it's morally repellant enough?

Apparently not.

The neocons have stoked up so much fear in the world that many Americans view torture as a necessary evil. The fact that it's a counter-productive evil is worth discussing in depth. The fact that torture is morally repellent is a part of the argument. But that observation alone isn't enough to talk down the people who are esconced in the ticking time bomb arguments.

This is a disturbing case. I would hope it to be unique.

It's not:

Former Guantánamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg is devastatingly reasonable. He is calm, well-spoken, highly articulate, and small; when imprisoned by the US army in Afghanistan, he says, his hands were small enough to slip out of their cuffs when the guards were absent.

Begg was imprisoned for three years without charge or trial. A British citizen, he was picked up by US intelligence officials in Pakistan in January 2002; they accused him of being a member of al-Qaida, which he denies.

At first, Begg was taken to the Bagram detention centre in Afghanistan, where, he says, he went a year without seeing sunlight. From January 2003, he was moved to Guantánamo Bay. Most of his time there was spent in solitary confinement.

The British government brought him back to the UK in January 2005, along with three other British detainees. They were all taken in for questioning at Paddington Green police station – and released within 24 hours. No charges have ever been brought against them.

--The neocons have stoked up so much fear in the world that ..--
No, the terrorists stoked up fear, which any sentient person never needed the "neocons" to stoke.

Why would any reputable intelligence agency share info with American agents knowing this could be the outcome?

ghost

Don't get hysterical. Any reputable intelligence agency will cooperate. Maybe they don't want another 9/11, in this country or in another country. Just a hunch.

>Why would any reputable intelligence agency share info with American agents knowing this could be the outcome?

Canada and the US share almost all of their intelligence with one another. Canada has also lost lives alongside us in Afghanistan, part of the War on Terror that actually made sense. Public outcry from incidents like these, added to Canadian perception of other idiotic actions, could lead to demands for a lessening of that mutual support, which would be tragic. Also, the fact that the Chinese have made much common cause with Canada (sorry about all the alliteration and assonance) might also weaken our mutual support. At the moment, Canada is sometimes thought of as a US annex (to the certain annoyance of the Canadians themselves). Events like this are cracks in the surface. We should knock off the torture, and we should darn well treat the Canadians as if they're worth something.

Is anyone else troubled by the fact that people like Lindsay feel compelled to write reasonable, rational, pragmatic arguments against torture?

Isn't the fact that it's morally repellant enough?

1) Yes. 2) Yes (from my limited and ill-informed perspective).

but I would not be surprised if terrorists frequently claim "torture" when no torture has taken place.

I hesitate to rise to the PhantomBait, but to at least keep this shit out of the memory hole:

We KNOW the kinds of torture that have been employed that the Administration wishes to continue employing with legal immunity:

Waterboarding. Forced standing. Hypothermia. "Stress Positions." If you don't think these things are torture, imagine them happening to you.

These methods were confirmed on national broadcast news i.e ABC/CBS/NBC.

It literally turns my stomach that people are doing this in my name, with the goal of "keeping me safe".

Torture is about the worst thing you can do to another person, next to killing them. Some torture victims would probably disagree, insomuch as they begged for death or comitted suicide afterwards to escape the memories.

I just can't take it anymore. I can't handle the idea that "reasonable people can disagree" on this point. People who advocate torture are not reasonable. And therefore they are not open to reasonable arguments otherwise. My apologies to our host, but on this topic, I think that participating in reasonable, practical arguments is participating in a mobile-goalpost game that those of us who believe in a just society will only ever lose.

Torture is about the worst thing you can do to another person, next to killing them. Some torture victims would probably disagree, insomuch as they begged for death or comitted suicide afterwards to escape the memories.

I just can't take it anymore. I can't handle the idea that "reasonable people can disagree" on this point. People who advocate torture are not reasonable. And therefore they are not open to reasonable arguments otherwise. My apologies to our host, but on this topic, I think that participating in reasonable, practical arguments is participating in a mobile-goalpost game that those of us who believe in a just society will only ever lose.

Agreed Trystero. It should not be done, period. Of course, as to whether to discuss it, logic is on our side as well:

1) Becoming known as a state that tortures is causing measurable damage to our reputation in the world, and measurable damage to cohesion in the war on terror, which should have been a given;

2) It is sometimes argued that torture is not as bad as death, and since killing is done in war, torture should be allowed as well; by this logic, however, all the Geneva Convention should be done away with (refer once again to item 1).

But the moral argument alone is the compelling one, and it is not relative, nor subject to utilitarian objections. Torture is a revolting practice, is beneath us as Americans, and drags our country into the shabby realm of lesser nations. It is a vile and ignoble betrayal of the ideals of human rights that America stands for.

a reserve marine's take on torture

there are a few voices out there speaking truth to the torturers. sometimes it gets tiring. it's troubling to me that seemingly reasonable people have been frightened into these "ticking time bomb" made for T.V. scenarios that have no real world basis. torture is very effective when it comes to getting people to say what the torturer wants them to say. as an instrument of truth it fails, consistently and miserably.

I was thinking about this thread on the way to work this morning. I have to admit, I'm very disturbed that it seems necessary to make rational arguments against torture.

It's sort of like writing rape-prevention posts about how you shouldn't rape people, even if you want to advance the patriarchy, because the patriarchy really won't thank you for your trouble and your victim might be driven into the arms of feminists, and you might go to jail, and you make the patriarchy look bad....

Everybody knows that you shouldn't rape because IT'S WRONG and DISGUSTING and BAD and INHUMAN. In fact, there's something morally distasteful about being patient or reasonable with rapists. Same with torturers.

I suppose that if I thought I could convince people not to rape with good arguments, I would try. Maybe the mistake is assuming that torturers are motivated by rationality any more than rapists.

DaveW, wow...I'm speechless. So they can not only strip you of your rights, they can send you away to a foreign prison, torture you for a year, then send you back without so much as a sorry, and oh by the way, you can't sue us and we're not going to give you anything for the trouble we caused.

What a crock of shit.

"Everybody knows that you shouldn't rape because IT'S WRONG and DISGUSTING and BAD and INHUMAN."

Actually, historically, I think this is a relatively new concept. Rape was often a tool of the military, and armies raping women as wrong, didn't come about till this century.

The Moors raped many women in their conquest of Europe. The Indians raped many women, if not took them completly and made them their wives. The English forced married women to sleep with the local lord before she spent a night with her husband.

Is there any rational to it? I'm not sure - though I believe it has something to do with conquering a people, and if you eliminate their reproductive capabilities, or even inter-breed with them, it makes the surviving peoples much less willing to rise up against their conquerors/oppressors.

Maybe it's some bestial desire that we humans still haven't removed from our nature, or at least learned to control. Soldiers still rape women they conquer, though it's not as common, and the instances are much rarer than they were a century or two ago. Torture might be with us a bit longer if that's the case.

--I suppose that if I thought I could convince people not to rape with good arguments, I would try. Maybe the mistake is assuming that torturers are motivated by rationality any more than rapists. --

I think that the motivations of the "torturers" of the CIA and the Military art to keep you and me safe.

I won't justify what is torture, but will ask you a question-and yes, it is the ticking time bomb question that supposedly never exists. If you intercepted one of the 19 hijackers on Sept 11 2001 at 6am upon information that there was to be some act of hijacking and mass murder what would you use as an interrogation technique? You have say Muhammad Atta in your possession. Do you yell at him? Do you touch his person in any way? Do you treat him as you would a burglar or tax cheat or should the treatment be different and if so, how?

Should there ever be physical contact with the one being interrogated?

If the person is Atta or Marsoui (sp) then I would have no problem with very rough tactics--sorry--I do not see any moral issue there with those who burn thousands of civilians in office towers.Sorry.

But the rational objection is that the wrong man can be treated badly ( see above ). Or that it can lead to mistreatment of your own people (though I question that when dealing with Islamofascists/jihadis). Or that false statements will be given in order to stop the tactics.

The rational arguments should be made and it is only they that can lead to a change.

"If you intercepted one of the 19 hijackers on Sept 11 2001 at 6am upon information that there was to be some act of hijacking and mass murder what would you use as an interrogation technique? You have say Muhammad Atta in your possession. Do you yell at him? Do you touch his person in any way? Do you treat him as you would a burglar or tax cheat or should the treatment be different and if so, how?"

Let's put it this way - he's a religious fanatic. Given that he knows within a couple hours that all he has to do is wait, I don't think even torture will get him to tell anything. They are already willing to die for their religion, as they did, what makes anything think that torture is going to work any better? The trick is to find them much further in advance, track their contacts, and then get as many as you can, thereby, disabling the cell before it has a time to do whatever it was they were planning. The fact that all the intelligence was there, but the pieces weren't put together in time, was why you're ticking timebomb scenario is even possible. Torture of one of the bombers would most likely not have changed the outcome of 9/11 in the slightest, and to use that as a reason to torture is reprehensible. To use your phrase, it's a "whataboutry".

Glenn Greenwald has more about the Bush administration's use of the "state secrets" doctrine to block lawsuits by Arar and others here:
http://glenngreenwald.blogspot.com/2006/09/here-is-moral-authority-of-us-under.html
and here:
http://glenngreenwald.blogspot.com/2006/05/snapshots-of-us-under-bush.html

Needless to say, I am disgusted with these attempts to evade being held accountable for their actions.

That's "morally repellent" not "morally repellant." If torture were morally repellant, we could spray it on morals to make them go away... oh, wait ....

-The neocons have stoked up so much fear in the world that ..--

Phantom said:
"No, the terrorists stoked up fear, which any sentient person"

Let us compare and contrast the Bush administration's response to 9/11 with the Roosevelt administration's response to Pearl Harbor.

The Bush administration's response was to institute a color-coded "warning system" and then, at the time of the next election, repeatedly push bogus alerts to ratchet up the fear level in pursuit of re-election.

FDR's motto, in contrast, was "the only thing to fear is fear itself".

In the UK, there was a recent study that concluded that the citizens of Britain were actually _happier_ during WWII, even while the Germans were sending nightly bombing raids over the island, then people are today. Why is that? I think that Churchill's leadership was aimed at bringing people together and fighting fear, whereas Blair's mirrors Bush's in trying to institute the most intrusive and all-encompassing security apparatus possible.

Let me go a little bit further with this, dipshit. (I figure you opened the abuser door with your assinine 'sentient' comment.) I, personally have lived in two cities hit by terrorist attacks: DC in 2001 and London in 2005. The bus that blew up in Tavistock Square was approximately a 5-minute walk from my office, and one of my co-workers saw the explosion as it happened.

And yet, I'm not quaking in fear. The terrorists have not made me afraid. Fear is a phenomenon of the mind, and it's been fed by paranoid propaganda for the past five years. We have moronic neocon pundits who claim that the "Islamofascist threat" is the greatest threat that the United States has ever faced. Looked at objectively, this is not even close to being true.

Trying to use 9/11 as a "ticking time bomb example" to justify torture is pathetic. What if, say, the President had advance warning not merely on the day of the attack, but more than a month before it? What if the prior administration had told the Bush administration that Al Qaeda was going to be the major problem he would have to deal with? What if somebody had handed Bush a PDB entitled "Al Qaeda to Attack within the U.S." in the middle of August 2001?

Well, we know what would have happened, because all of that did happen. And what did Bush do? Jack shit.

Phantom, you are completely lost in a neocon fantasy of how the world behaves. The fact remains that torture is inconsistent at best as a means of gathering information, and it invariably has high false positive rates. And the problem is that, in the world of torture, a "false positive" means somebody innocent has been tortured. Also, a high false positive rate means that the information gatherers are going to be unable to trust the information they actually do gather.

Of course, the Bush administration isn't really interested in the truth value of the "confessions" they gather from torture. Luckily for them, the President receives his intelligence directly from a higher being, so he already knows what the truth is. So the purpose of the torture is merely to get enough people to cough out confessions that he can use in his occassional PR blitzes. Whether the confessions are from innocent people or not, or have any foundation in reality or not, are completely uninteresting to these people. All they are looking for are statements to justify the actions that they have already decided to take.

And if you haven't realized all of that yet, I dare say you don't qualify for the adjective "sentient".

"If you intercepted one of the 19 hijackers on Sept 11 2001 at 6am upon information that there was to be some act of hijacking and mass murder what would you use as an interrogation technique? "

Let's change it a little.

Let's say you intercepted someone with exactly the same name as one of the hijackers instead, but you're certain you have the right guy. Do you pull out hs fingernails?

Let's change it a little more. Make it August 11, and you get ironclad intelligence (which is wrong) that a 9/11 type attack is going to happen that day, and you are certain (but wrong) that the guy you have is part of it. Do you torture the wrong guy who you know is in on a plot that doesn't exist that you are sure is real?

The overwhelming majority of people are absolutely certain beyond a reasonable doubt that at least one thing is true which is not. People are not trustworthy enough to be allowed to judge when torture is appropriate.

Hardly earth-shattering.

A similar case where not so brilliant US intelligence made a mistake happened with a German citizen, Khaled el-Masri, who was kidnapped by American agents in Macedonia at the end of 2003, carted off to a prison in Afghanistan, and accused of being an al-Qaida terrorist and of collusion with the Sept. 11 hijackers. He says he was beaten and sodomized by his captors while held captive and was also forced to wear a diaper and was drugged. His five month ordeal finally ended when he was dumped on an abandoned road in Albania. (Spiegel Online)

The reaction? The CIA apologized to el-Masri for the detainment that was the result of mistaken identity and even paid him damages ($75,000) -- but el-Masri denied receiving money and sued the CIA in US courts last year. The case was thrown out in May by a US Federal Court in Virginia. The court argued -- Judge Ellis said he was satisfied after receiving a secret written briefing from the director of the Central Intelligence Agency -- the case would risk exposing national security secrets that are key to Washington's efforts to battle terrorism. (Spiegel online)

Actually, some of the suspected CIA kidnappers were identified. Clues to their identity have turned up from Spanish authorities and German TV journalists. Because they were only pilots, the CIA didn't seem to go to great lengths to change their identities.(Spiegel online)

There are similar cases in many European countries but politicians have no great incentives to interfere with US-European rapprochement.

The comments to this entry are closed.