Another Example Of Success
George W. Bush, speaking on September the sixth:
In addition to the terrorists held at Guantanamo, a small number of suspected terrorist leaders and operatives captured during the war have been held and questioned outside the United States, in a separate program operated by the Central Intelligence Agency. This group includes individuals believed to be the key architects of the September the 11th attacks, and attacks on the USS Cole, an operative involved in the bombings of our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and individuals involved in other attacks that have taken the lives of innocent civilians across the world. These are dangerous men with unparalleled knowledge about terrorist networks and their plans for new attacks. The security of our nation and the lives of our citizens depend on our ability to learn what these terrorists know.
Many specifics of this program, including where these detainees have been held and the details of their confinement, cannot be divulged. Doing so would provide our enemies with information they could use to take retribution against our allies and harm our country. I can say that questioning the detainees in this program has given us information that has saved innocent lives by helping us stop new attacks — here in the United States and across the world. Today, I’m going to share with you some of the examples provided by our intelligence community of how this program has saved lives; why it remains vital to the security of the United States, and our friends and allies; and why it deserves the support of the United States Congress and the American people.
He did not mention this one, but here is an example of the program at work:
Maher Arar is a Canadian citizen. He was born in Syria in 1970 and, as a teenager, immigrated to Canada with his family, which settled in Montreal. Mr. Arar is a highly educated person. Upon completing high school in 1989, he attended Ahuntsic CÉGEP, in the sciences stream. After graduating in 1991, he enrolled at McGill University, from which he obtained a Bachelor of Engineering in Computers in 1995. He then went on to specialize, earning a Master’s degree in Telecommunications from the University of Quebecs Institut national de la recherche scientifique.
While at McGill, Mr. Arar met Monia Mazigh, and the two later married. Ms. Mazigh completed a doctorate in Finance at McGill University in 2001. The couple has two young children, a girl and a boy. In 1997, the family moved from Montreal to Ottawa, where Mr. Arar, a professional in the telecommunications engineering field, took a job with a high tech firm. In 1999, Mr. Arar followed career opportunities to the United States, taking a position with a Boston firm, The MathWorks, Inc. His job involved extensive travel between Canada and the United States.
Mr. Arar is a practicing Muslim. As discussed below, one of the devastating effects of Mr. Arar’s experiences has been his sense of disconnect from the Ottawa Muslim community since his return to Canada.
As regards Mr. Arar’s personal character, the fact-finder for the Commission, Professor Stephen Toope, that Mr. Arar is a hardworking person who values his professionalism immensely, is strongly committed to his family, and derives a large part of his sense of self from his ability to provide for it. Professor Toope remarked that Mr. Arar strikes me as a person with what one might describe as moral courage.
The Inquiry was called because of what Mr. Arar lived through from September 26, 2002, when he boarded an airplane in Switzerland, to October 6, 2003, when he arrived home in Canada. His story is harrowing.
Unless otherwise noted, the facts that follow are taken from Professor Toope’s report.
On September 26, 2002, Mr. Arar, who had been in Tunisia with his family, was returning to Canada by plane via Switzerland and the United States. He boarded an American Airlines flight in Zurich and, at about two o’clock in the afternoon, arrived in New York, where he was pulled aside by American customs officials. Two hours later, he was fingerprinted and photographed, and told this was regular procedure. His possessions were searched and his passport photographed. Mr. Arar was then placed under arrest and strip-searched, an experience he found “humiliating.” He was held, first at the John F. Kennedy International Airport and later at the Metropolitan Detention Centre, for 12 days, during which time he was interrogated by American officials. Initially, he was denied access to a lawyer. His request to pray during the interrogation sessions was denied.
On October 8, 2002, Mr. Arar was awakened at three oclock in the morning and told that he was to be removed to Syria. Mr. Arar told Professor Toope that, at that point, he had begun to cry and say that he would be tortured if sent to Syria. He said he had felt destroyed. Mr. Arar was taken to New Jersey, put on a corporate jet, and flown to Amman, Jordan, with brief stops in Washington, D.C., Portland, Maine, and Rome, Italy. Throughout the journey, he was chained and shackled in the back of the plane. The shackles were removed only at the end of the trip, when he was given the opportunity to have a meal with his guards. He could not eat.
It was the middle of the night when he arrived in Amman and was transported to a detention centre. He had not slept since leaving New York. He suffered blows at the hands of his Jordanian guards and was blindfolded. He was then taken into a room, where the blindfold was removed. He was asked routine questions and then blindfolded again before being led to a cell.
The next morning, he was told that he was going to Syria. Later that day, he was blindfolded and put into a car or van. By the time he arrived at his destination at around five o’clock in the afternoon, Mr. Arar was exhausted, hungry, and terrified. His blindfold was removed, and he saw portraits of Presidents Assad, father and son. Mr. Arar later learned that he was in Syria, in the Far Falestin detention centre, also called the Palestine Branch, which was run by the Syrian Military Intelligence (SMI).
Later that day, Mr. Arar was interrogated for approximately four hours by a man called George, subsequently identified as George Salloum, the head interrogator at the Palestine Branch. Two other interrogators were present, taking notes. The questions mostly concerned his family. Mr. Arar told Professor Toope that, at this point, he had decided to say anything necessary to avoid torture. Although no physical violence was used during this interrogation session, ominous threats were made. Whenever Mr. Arar was slow to answer, George would threaten to use the chair, a reference Mr. Arar did not understand.
By the next day, October 9, 2002, Mr. Arar was even more exhausted, as he had not been able to sleep in the cell. He was called up for interrogation. When George arrived, he immediately started hitting Mr. Arar. The chair on which Mr. Arar had been sitting was taken away, so that he was now on the floor.
George brought a black cable, which might have been a shredded electrical cable, about two feet long, into the room with him. Mr. Arar told Professor Toope that, when he had seen the cable, he had started to cry. George told Mr. Arar to open his right hand, then raised the cable high and brought it down hard. Mr. Arar recalled the moment vividly; he told Professor Toope that he had felt like a bad Syrian school boy. He stood up and started jumping, but he was forced back down and the process was repeated with his left hand.
Mr. Arar was then made to stand near the door, and the questions began. The theme throughout was you are a liar. He was given breaks, during which he was put into a different room, where he could hear other people screaming. Sometimes, he was blindfolded and left to stand in the hallway for an hour or more. The screaming continued. Each time Mr. Arar was brought back into the interrogation room, he was beaten about the upper body and asked more questions.
On the second day in the Palestine Branch, the interrogation lasted approximately 10 hours.
Day three, October 11, 2002, was the most intensive for Mr. Arar. He was questioned for 16 to 18 hours, and was subjected to great physical and psychological abuse. The questions were in part about Abdullah Almalki. Mr. Arar was beaten with the black cable on numerous occasions throughout the day, and was threatened with electric shock, the chair and the tire. The pattern was three or four lashes with the cable, then questions, followed by more beating. After a while, he became so weak that he was disoriented. He remembers being asked if he had trained in Afghanistan. By this time, he was so afraid and in so much pain that he replied, “If you want me to say so.” He was asked which border he had crossed and whether he had seen Mr. Almalki in Afghanistan.
Mr. Arar told Professor Toope that he had urinated on himself twice during this questioning, and had had to wear the same clothes for the next two and a half months. He had been “humiliated.”
Mr. Arar was questioned about his relationships with various people, his family, his bank accounts, and his salary. His interrogators could not understand what he did for a living. They did not believe his description of providing services in the computer sector or the amount he said he was paid in salary, which they thought impossibly high. Mr. Arar was beaten for these “lies.”
After the beatings on the third day, the interrogation became less intense physically. There was much less use of the cables, and more punching and hitting. On October 16 or 17, even those beatings diminished. However, the threats intensified, and the psychological pressure remained extreme. For example, Mr. Arar was put in the tire, though not beaten. Warnings about the chair were also used to scare him. At the end of each interrogation session, an interrogator would say tomorrow will be tough or tomorrow will be worse for you. Mr. Arar found it almost impossible to sleep for more than two or three hours a night.
Mr. Arar’s conditions of detention were atrocious. He was kept in a basement cell that was seven feet high, six feet long, and three feet wide. The cell contained only two thin blankets, a humidity isolator, and two bottles one for water and one for urine. The only source of light in the cell was a small opening in the middle of the ceiling, measuring roughly one foot by two feet. According to Mr. Arar, cats would sometimes urinate through the opening. There were also rats in the building; Mr. Arar stuffed shoes under the door to his cell to prevent them from entering. The cell was damp and very cold in the winter and stifling in the summer. Mr. Arar was known to guards only by his cell number: Two.
Over time, as the beatings diminished in intensity, the most disturbing aspect of Mr. Arar’s detention came to be the daily horror of living in the tiny, dark and damp cell all alone and with no reading material (except the Koran later on). While at first the cell was a refuge from the infliction of physical pain, later it became a torture in its own right. Mr. Arar described for Professor Toope nights alone in his cell, when he had been unable to sleep on the cold concrete floor and had had to turn over every 15 minutes or so. He had thought of his family constantly, worrying about their finances and safety, and had been “bombarded by memories.”
Mr. Arar remained in this cell for 10 months and 10 days, during which he saw almost no sunlight other than when he was transferred for consular visits. His first visit to the courtyard of the prison did not take place until April 2003. Mr. Arar described the cell as a grave and a slow death. By June or July of 2003, he had reached his limit. Although he had tried to keep in shape by doing push-ups and pacing in his cell, he was losing all hope and stopped his modest exercise regime.
In July 2003, one of his interrogators, Khalid, upon seeing him for the first time in months, told Mr. Arar that his wife would divorce him if she saw him as he was then: thin, listless and crying. The consular visits with Léo Martel, the Canadian consul, provided a little hope and some connection to Mr. Arars family, but Mr. Arar also found them immensely frustrating.
On August 20, 2003, Mr. Arar was transferred to Sednaya Prison, where conditions were like heaven compared with those in the Palestine Branch. On October 5, 2003, he was released from custody after signing a confession given to him in court by a Syrian prosecutor.
The fact-finder for the Inquiry concluded that Mr. Arar’s treatment in Syria constituted torture within the meaning of article 1 of the Convention Against Torture. I agree. The consequences of Mr. Arar’s ordeal have been profound, and include physical, psychological, family and community, and economic effects.
The purely physical effects of the torture suffered by Mr. Arar were mostly short-lived. This is consistent with Mr. Arars account that physical force had been used as part of the interrogation process at the beginning of his detention. His detention in Sednaya Prison toward the end of his time in Syria also gave him a chance to heal physically.
Mr. Arar nevertheless had some physical complaints upon his return to Canada and over the following three to four months. He experienced hip pain, which was likely connected with his sleeping in cramped and damp quarters on a hard floor for over 10 months. He also complained of pain around his face and head and in his neck, shoulders and lower back. Bad dreams continue to disrupt Mr. Arar’s sleep, and he suffers from stress and headaches.
Psychologically, Mr. Arar’s experiences in Syria were devastating. When Mr. Arar returned to Canada, he was in a “fragile” state. He was suffering from post-traumatic stress and did not know whom to trust. Mr. Arar’s distrust is rooted in continuing fear. Professor Toope reported that Mr. Arar could not yet contemplate travel by air, even within Canada. He was afraid that the plane might be diverted to the United States and, if this occurred, he might be seized and the ordeal might begin again. He was afraid that he would not be able to resume any kind of “normal” life. He was afraid that his story would not be believed.
Professor Toope noted that even the Commission of Inquiry process itself has caused Mr. Arar and his family anxiety and stress. Mr. Arar’s focus on the Inquiry and on his security concerns has become a significant source of tension within the family. Professor Toope observed that Mr. Arar was particularly disturbed by certain leaks from sources allegedly inside the Canadian government that cast him in a negative light. According to Professor Toope, Mr. Arar was devastated by those leaks.
Mr. Arars ordeal has had a profound effect on his family life. Dr. Mazigh told Professor Toope that she had married a focused, easygoing, patient man. She described that man as an optimistic person who had believed that he could work hard and make a good life for his family. Mr. Arar had apparently been very caring with their daughter, born in 1997, and had been a patient father. His son, born in 2002, had turned out to be colicky, and so Mr. Arar had often taken the baby for car rides to try to settle him. As it turned out, Mr. Arar was absent for much of the boy’s second year of life.
Dr. Mazigh had found the contrast between that man and the man who had arrived home from Syria shocking. He had been submissive, without any light in his eyes. Dr. Mazigh reported that, for many weeks, Mr. Arar had seemed confused. He would pace back and forth as he talked to his wife. He was always tired. He told Dr. Mazigh that he just wanted a normal life, which to him meant a life without conflict.
Professor Toope also noted that, since his return, Mr. Arar has had a difficult relationship with the Muslim community in Canada. Mr. Arar stopped going to the mosque that he had previously attended. He told Professor Toope that he was disappointed at the reaction of many Muslims to him and his story. He felt that this distancing had been exacerbated by the press leaks mentioned previously.
Finally, Mr. Arars ordeal has had devastating economic effects. Mr. Arar went from being an engineer and a member of the middle class, to having to rely on social assistance to help feed, clothe and house his family. He told Professor Toope that not being employed was destroying him. By the conclusion of the Inquiry, Mr. Arar had finally been offered a small, part-time position as a computer advisor in his daughter’s school. However, this was little comfort for a man who had derived a large part of his sense of self from his professionalism and ability to support his family.
Mr. Arar has asked that I clear his name. His concern, understandably, is that the publicity surrounding his case has raised suspicions that he has been involved in illegal activities.
Unfortunately, Mr. Arar has been the subject of a good deal of publicity, some of which has inaccurately portrayed his status in Canadian investigations and his possible connections to terrorist activities. The result has been that Mr. Arar, already the victim of inhumane and degrading treatment in Syria, has been subjected to further suffering owing to the release of information that has unfairly damaged his reputation here in Canada.
I have heard evidence concerning all of the information gathered by Canadian investigators in relation to Mr. Arar. This includes information obtained in Canada, as well as any information received from American, Syrian or other foreign authorities. I am able to say categorically that there is no evidence to indicate that Mr. Arar has committed any offence or that his activities constitute a threat to the security of Canada.
The public can be confident that Canadian investigators have thoroughly and exhaustively followed all information leads available to them in connection with Mr. Arar’s activities and associations. This was not a case where investigators were unable to effectively pursue their investigative goals because of a lack of resources or time constraints. On the contrary, Canadian investigators made extensive efforts to find any information that could implicate Mr. Arar in terrorist activities. They did so over a lengthy period of time, even after Mr. Arar’s case became a cause célèbre. The results speak for themselves: they found none.
Of course, it is virtually impossible to establish a negative, that is, to establish that Mr. Arar has never been involved in any illegal activities connected with national security. The same would hold true for any individual. However, my conclusion, coupled with the RCMP’s position that Mr. Arar was never even a suspect in its investigation that, at most, he was a person of interest should remove any taint or suspicion about Mr. Arar that has resulted from the publicity surrounding his case.
Again, the President of the United States:
By giving us information about terrorist plans we could not get anywhere else, this program has saved innocent lives. . . .
I want to be absolutely clear with our people, and the world: The United States does not torture. It’s against our laws, and it’s against our values. I have not authorized it — and I will not authorize it.