The Arar Case: Wrong and Unapologetic

I know, I know. The thing I’m writing about is already days old. Folks are wrapping fish in it.

And the longer I delayed this column, the more it seemed like I should just let it go without comment.

After all, it’s not like our president didn’t have anything else to do these past few days.

But then came the new British Prime Minister, David Cameron, and his full-throated and obviously genuine apology for Bloody Sunday. For the 1972 killings of 14 unarmed demonstrators by British soldiers in Northern Ireland. He said that a long-awaited judicial inquiry had left no doubt that the “Bloody Sunday” shootings were “both unjustified and unjustifiable.”

“What happened should never, ever have happened,” Cameron said in a House of Commons statement. “The families of those who died should not have had to live with the pain and hurt of that day, and a lifetime of loss. Some members of our armed forces acted wrongly. The government is ultimately responsible for the conduct of the armed forces. And for that, on behalf of the government – and indeed our country – I am deeply sorry.”

Cameron also had plenty on his plate, yet, found the time and the political will to walk and chew gum. And his “I am deeply sorry” came not just from Cameron, but from the British government. And his words reinvigorated my faith in the restorative power of confession.

So, where was Barack Obama when contrition was being handed out?


What does he/we have to be contrite about?

Well, just this: Back in 2002, a young computer engineer was passing through New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport on his way back to his home in Canada. But he never made it. Instead, he was “rendered” by US authorities to a Syrian prison, where, for the next ten plus months, he was held without charge and without family notification. He claims he was tortured. And that should come as no surprise to Hillary Clinton or her predecessor, Condi Rice, on whose torture blacklists Syria has consistently held a high place.

We sent Maher Arar to Syria because of over-zealous Bush-era officials acting on faulty information provided to us by the Canadian authorities. Arar was a Muslim extremist, a terrorist; he was on the US watch list.

When the Canadians launched a two-year investigation, they discovered that the whole affair was bogus. The head of the Royal Mounted Police was forced to resign. The commission that investigated the incident apologized to Arar and his family and gave them damages worth $10 million.

And what did we do? We kept Arar on our no-fly watch list. And when he tried to sue former Attorney General John Ashcroft, both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations found reason to invoke the “State Secrets” privilege – a once sparingly-used evidentiary rule effectively used to throw his case out of multiple courts. Moving ahead with a suit would “compromise US national security,” the Obama Justice Department argued. And all we could get out of Condi Rice was her view that this case was not handled very well.

So, all the way up to the Supreme Court, the judges got rolled. Last week, the Supreme Court, too, got rolled; it declined to hear Arar’s appeal.

With that refusal, Arar used up his last glimmer of faith in the US justice system.

The hope now is that maybe someone in our government will say something to Arar that sounds like an apology. Obama could do it. So could Congress.

But either of these possibilities is extremely unlikely; Muslim terrorists are not too popular politically!

Today, I am deeply, profoundly ashamed of my government, my president, my country.

We all need to remember Arar, especially when our presidents and our attorneys general start to brag about their deeply embedded reverence for the rule of law as the greatest single attribute defining American exceptionalism.

The difference between our hubris and that of all those other sorry nations with no rule of law is exactly zero.