TOPICS: Truth, justice, and the un-American way

My organisation, the Institute for Policy Studies, gave its annual human rights award this fall to Maher Arar, an innocent man the Bush administration falsely accused of being linked to Al Qaeda. His chilling case represents an opportunity for the new Democratic leadership in Congress to show the world that America has not entirely forgotten its proud history on human rights.

The general outline of Arar’s story has been widely publicised. He is the joint Canadian-Syrian citizen who was detained at New York’s JFK Airport in 2002 and “rendered” to Syria, a country the United States State Department accuses of routinely using torture. Syrian intelligence agents brutally tortured Arar - a fact confirmed by a Canadian inquiry — before releasing him nearly a year later without charging him. Arar protested to the Canadian government and it conducted an in-depth inquiry into his case. When it declared him innocent of all terrorist ties in September, the Canadian House of Commons swiftly passed a unanimous motion apologising to Arar. The head of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which provided misleading evidence against Arar to US agents that led to his arrest, also apologised to him and his family.

The Bush administration refused to cooperate with that Canadian inquiry and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales continues to deny any wrongdoing. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently sent a letter to her Canadian counterpart about the Arar case. She refused to apologise to Arar, offering only to share information with her northern neighbour the next time the US considers sending a Canadian citizen to a third country. Does that decision ever keep Rice up at night?

A recently released transcript of a House Judiciary Committee hearing held in April this year is revealing. In the transcript, which clearly refers to the Arar case, although he isn’t mentioned by name, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (Democrat) of New York asked the attorney general if the treatment of Arar was legal. Gonzales replied: “I don’t know, but I would be happy to get back to you on that.”

As far as we know, he never did get back to anyone. Does that approach ever keep Gonzales up at night? The new congressional leaders should take immediate action to right these wrongs. They should start by issuing a formal apology to Arar and his family. It’s too late to prevent the nightmare endured by this young man and his family.

And yet even Arar, a man the United States government sent to a Syrian dungeon, has not given up hope in the American people. In accepting the rights award from the Institute of Policy Studies, he said it meant a tremendous amount to him because “it means that there are still Americans out there who value our struggle for justice. It means that there are Americans out there who are truly concerned about the future of America.”

Leaders in US Congress shoulkeep that hope alive by refusing to stand by while the Bush administration continues a practice of outsourcing torture. — The Christian Science Monitor