Who’s sorry now?

Jan 31, 2007 at 12:00 am

Speaking of unconscionable governmental action, our neighbor to the south (O Canada for all you geographically challenged types out there) has opened its public pocketbook to compensate one of their own who became collateral damage in our so-called War on Terror.

Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian, was traveling through New York's JFK Airport in 2002 on his way home to Toronto when he was detained by U.S. authorities acting on information provided by the Canadian government. The Mounties said Arar was an Islamic extremist with suspected ties to terrorist networks. Arar was held in solitary confinement and interrogated, all without access to an attorney.

Then the United States shipped Arar to Syria. Call it a special breed of outsourcing when the United States sends anyone it wants off to imprisonment and confession-by-torture in countries with little concern for details like human rights.

In Syria, Arar was tortured, beaten and held in a rat-infested cell for nearly a year. After the Syrians determined he had nothing of interest to tell them, he was released and sent home where Canadian authorities eventually cleared him of any links to terror groups or activity. Last week, the Canucks awarded him a $9.75 million (U.S.) settlement.

"On behalf of the government of Canada, I wish to apologize to you ... for any role Canadian officials may have played in the terrible ordeal," Prime Minister Stephen Harper said.

While Canada addresses its collective national guilt, Arar still remains on the U.S. watch list, and a U.S. district judge cited "national security" in dismissing his case against Bush administration officials last year.

In that action, he was represented by attorneys from the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, where Detroit native Bill Goodman (see our cover story "Fighting the Goodman fight," MT, Jan. 10) is legal director. It's an understatement to say Goodman applauded the Canadian government's inquiry and apology to Arar.

"The Canadian government has shamed our government by demonstrating how a functioning democracy should work — public hearings, public findings and an apology when rights have been violated," Goodman says. "In contrast, our government has stonewalled and concealed its wrongdoing and, finally, has attempted character assassination to the extent that it has outraged even the conservative Canadian prime minister."

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]