Friday, February 25, 2005

Jordan, the War on Terror, and Human Rights

According to the State Department's 2003 human rights report on Syria,

The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, these remained significant problems. The Ministry of Interior controlled the police force, which many observers considered corrupt. The 1963 Emergency Law authorizes the Government to conduct preventive arrests and overrides Constitutional and Penal Code provisions against arbitrary arrest and detention, including the need to obtain warrants. In cases involving political or national security offenses, arrests often were carried out in secret. Suspects could be detained incommunicado for prolonged periods without charge or trial and denied the right to a judicial determination regarding pretrial detention. Additionally, those suspected of political or national security offenses could be arrested and prosecuted under ambiguous and broad articles of the Penal Code and subsequently tried in either the criminal or security courts.

Even though Syria has come under criticism by the Bush administration, it was still willing to make use of Syria's human rights record if the testimony of Maher Arar is to be believed. Mr. Arar, a Canadian citizen, was attempting to change planes at Kennedy Airport on his way home to Canada from a family vacation in Tunisia, when he was seized by American authorities, interrogated and thrown into jail. He was not charged with anything, and he never would be charged with anything. Instead he was flown out of the United States to Jordan and then driven to Syria, where he was kept in an unlit, underground, rat-infested cell that was the size of a grave. From time to time he was tortured.

Mr. Arar's words speak eloquently for themselves.

He wept. He begged not to be beaten anymore. He signed whatever confessions he was told to sign. He prayed.

Among the worst moments, he said, were the times he could hear babies crying in a nearby cell where women were imprisoned. He recalled hearing one woman pleading with a guard for several days for milk for her child.

He could hear other prisoners screaming as they were tortured.

"I used to ask God to help them," he said. ...

Mr. Arar, who is married and also has an 8-year-old daughter, said the pain from some of the beatings he endured lasted for six months.

"It was so scary," he said. "After a while I became like an animal."

The Justice Department has alleged, without disclosing any evidence whatsoever, that Mr. Arar is a member of, or somehow linked to, Al Qaeda, even though they now allow him to roam free. The Syrians, who tortured him, have concluded that Mr. Arar is not linked in any way to terrorism. A lawsuit on Mr. Arar's behalf has been filed against the United States by the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York. Barbara Olshansky, a lawyer with the center, noted yesterday that the government is arguing that none of Mr. Arar's claims can even be adjudicated because they "would involve the revelation of state secrets."

Which is something of an admission in itself.


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