Friday, 1 September 2006

Subcontracting torture

Maher ArarMaher Arar has moved to B.C. And I for one wish him well. I didn't know the man, although I did run into him on the street a couple of times when we lived in the same neighbourhood. But the mere thought of what he has had to go through makes my blood boil.

I don't care how spooked we or the Americans were by 9/11, there is NEVER any excuse whatsoever for sending ANYBODY to be tortured in foreign jails. Which is what happened to Maher Arar, on the flimsiest of evidence, with no court hearings, no appeal.

This is such a fundamental breach of justice it just about makes me ill. I don't believe for a minute that he was guilty. Guilty people do not clamour loudly for extensive public investigations, as Arar has. But even if he had been a fire-breathing jihadist, we profoundly violate our own values as a society if we take our own criminals and hand them over to other criminals who happen to be in charge in another society.

First, it violates the principle of presumption of innocence. Quite frankly, if we sacrifice that, we might just as well join the Taliban, because we have lost one of the main things that allows us to claim any moral superiority over them.

Secondly, it violates the principle of an accused person to face those accusations in an open trial. Again, this is such a fundamental principle of our society that it can not and must not be sacrificed.

Thirdly, we are big boys and girls. If we have terrorists to deal with, we are capable of handling them. We don't need Syrian torture chambers. This was not only a violation of fundamental justice, but an abdication of responsibility.

Fourthly, torture is just plain wrong. You may call this a subjective moral judgment, but I'm not budging. It's too big a topic to handle in this context, so I may tackle it another time.

Fifthly, even if you can stomach the idea of torture, in practice, it is horribly inefficient. Confessions and information obtained under torture are always highly suspect.

Sixthly, it was a violation of Canadian sovereignty. What business do American officials have deciding to deport a Canadian citizen, dual citizenship or not? He hadn't violated any American laws on American territory. Public inquiries or no, I don't think we've ever really found out how much Canadian complicity there was in this affair (correct me if I'm wrong). From the little I know about it, there was some cooperation between the police forces and possibly secret services of the two countries, which might make this a moot point.

Great as the wrong committed against Arar was, we violated ourselves just as much in this whole sorry affair. No one has ever been held responsible, no heads have rolled, and as far as I know, no measures have been implemented to ensure it doesn't happen again. We desperately need to address these issues or risk becoming a society unworthy of defence.

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