Saturday, September 23, 2006

The Case of Maher Arar (One)

I've been reading the Report of the Canadian Commission of Inquiry into the Actions of Canadian Officials in Relation to Maher Arar, written by Justice Dennis O'Connor, the Associate Chief Justice of Ontario. As I've mentioned before, the Report and lots of supporting documentation are available at the Commission's website.

There's so much in this Report that is of interest that it's hard to know where to begin. So let me start with this: How does a person become a terror suspect?

One of the ways in which a person can show up on the U.S. national security radar and come to the attention of national security authorities as a potential Evildoer is through tips and information provided by the agencies and officials of foreign governments. Of course, foreign governments aren't the only source of information for U.S. authorities -- other sources include direct tips from informants, information gleaned from the interrogation of captured terror suspects, surveillance, etc. But information sharing with foreign governments plays a major role.

Now consider the case of Maher Arar. From the Report:

Towards the end of October 2001, Canada Customs placed border lookouts for Mr. Arar and his wife [...]. [There were "reasonable grounds" for the lookout itself, but] the lookout for Mr. Arar was designated a "terrorism" lookout. According to a Canada Customs bulletin, that designation is used when someone issuspected of being a member, associate or sympathizer of a known terrorist organization. Mr. Arar did not meet these criteria. He was not suspected ofbeing a member of a terrorist organization and should not have been labelled in this fashion in the lookout. To do so was unfair to Mr. Arar, who was merely a person of interest. It is essential that precise and accurate language be used when describing an individual's role in a terrorism-related investigation, particularly in these times of heightened concerned about public safety and national security. Labels have a way of sticking to individuals, reputations are easily damaged and when labels are inaccurate, serious unfairness to individuals can result. (Report, p.19) (Emphasis mine)

Welcome to the computer system as a guy with a "terrorism lookout," Mr. Arar. Enjoy your flight! The Report goes on:

Project A-O Canada [a Canadian anti-terrorism task force] supplied the American agencies with a good deal of inaccurate information about Mr. Arar, some of which was inflammatory and unfairly prejudicial to him. [...] [I]n its request for U.S. border lookouts, Project A-O Canada described Mr. Arar and his wife as Islamic extremists suspected of being linked to the al-Qaeda movement. Everyone who testified accepts that this description was wrong and should not have been given to the Americans. There was no basis for such an assertion. The request was sent to U.S. Customs in late October 2001, but it was also given directly to the American agencies five months later, in April 2002. The potential consequences of labelling someone an Islamic extremist in post- 9/11 America are enornous. (Report, p.27) (emphasis mine)

So, now you have a guy with a "terrorist lookout" message flashing on every computer screen in U.S. law enforcement, and a bunch of U.S. agencies have been notified that he's an Islamic extremist with ties to al Qaeda. Except it's all bullshit.

With this in mind, consider President Bush's statement yesterday about the necessity of his CIA torture program:

I had a single test for the pending legislation, and that's this: Would the CIA operators tell me whether they could go forward with the program, that is a program to question detainees to be able to get information to protect the American people. I'm pleased to say that this agreement preserves the most single - most potent tool we have in protecting America and foiling terrorist attacks, and that is the CIA program to question the world's most dangerous terrorists and to get their secrets.

The single most potent tool he has to protect the American people is his program to torture "the world's most dangerous terrorists and get their secrets." And how does he know they're terrorists again?

More tomorow.

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