Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Change the terms of the debate

And start here, because this will be all over the news today, simply because the Canadian government said it:

A government commission on Monday exonerated a Canadian computer engineer of any ties to terrorism and issued a scathing report that faulted Canada and the United States for his deportation four years ago to Syria, where he was imprisoned and tortured.

The report on the engineer, Maher Arar, said American officials had apparently acted on inaccurate information from Canadian investigators and then misled Canadian authorities about their plans for Mr. Arar before transporting him to Syria.

“I am able to say categorically that there is no evidence to indicate that Mr. Arar has committed any offense or that his activities constituted a threat to the security of Canada,” Justice Dennis R. O’Connor, head of the commission, said at a news conference.
Ooops. The US government, of course, has no comment.

But simply Google "Maher Arar" and you find a wealth of information, and realize this story is 3 years old, and it touches on the concept of "extraordinary rendition" (which is itself a violation of international law). (And here is a link to the Canadian Commission itself). There are several ways to look at this, not least of which is how the US relates to foreign nationals and to other countries:

“The American authorities who handled Mr. Arar’s case treated Mr. Arar in a most regrettable fashion,” Justice O’Connor wrote in a three-volume report, not all of which was made public. “They removed him to Syria against his wishes and in the face of his statements that he would be tortured if sent there. Moreover, they dealt with Canadian officials involved with Mr. Arar’s case in a less than forthcoming manner.”
It also shouldn't be lost on anyone that Mr. Arar was suspect because he was Muslim.

The police described Mr. Arar and his wife as, the report said, “Islamic extremists suspected of being linked to the al Qaeda movement.”

The commission said that all who testified before it accepted that the description was false.
If this is a "clash of civilizations," we seem to be the ones determined to make it so. And why is that? Because "9/11 changed everything." No, seriously:

According to the inquiry’s finding, the Mounted Police gave the F.B.I. and other American authorities material from Project A-O Canada, which included suggestions that Mr. Arar had visited Washington around Sept. 11 and had refused to cooperate with the Canadian police. The handover of the data violated the force’s own guidelines, but was justified on the basis that such rules no longer applied after 2001.
It gets worse. The US sent Arar to Syria because we knew the Canadians would be "soft."

[I]n an interview last year, a former official said on condition of anonymity that the decision to send Mr. Arar to Syria had been based chiefly on the desire to get more information about him and the threat he might pose. The official said Canada did not intend to hold him if he returned home.
Turns out the threat was he spoke to another man about where to get used ink jet cartridges. You can't make this stuff up; at least, until Kafka, you couldn't imagine this stuff would come true.

The issue is justice. Pure, simple, plain. We can drop all the quibbling about safety and torture and secret evidence. The issue is justice. We do justice to others, and we expect justice from them. World War II was fought because the Japanese unjustly attacked us at Pearl Harbor, because the German unjustly attacked Europe. That's what we tell ourselves, anyway. We helped draft and adhere to the Geneva Conventions because we stand for justice. We participated in the Nuremburg War Crimes Tribunals because we stand for justice.

It is about justice. Nothing more, nothing less. It has to be. That's the ground, terms, and boundaries of the debate: what are the requirements of justice? Say it; repeat it; insist on it. It is about justice.

Because without justice, what do we have to offer the world?

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