Testimony of Maher Arar – Extraordinary Rendition by U.S. Immigration Officials

This is the PITS. It is a gross violation of human rights, a misguided and miscalculated effort at WHO-KNOWS-WHAT?!

Published in the June 17 – Globe and Mail, Canada

On my way home to Canada from a family vacation in September of 2002, I was stopped and interrogated at JFK Airport in New York. Within two weeks, against my will, the U.S. government sent me to Syria, where I was tortured and detained for a year before being released back to Canada without any charge being filed against me.

Following a request by a U.S. congressman shortly after my release, the inspector-general of the Homeland Security Department launched an investigation. Early this month, Richard Skinner released a much-anticipated report on the actions of U.S. immigration officials surrounding the decision to send me to Syria.

Despite the limited scope of the investigation and the refusal by key decision-makers to be interviewed, the heavily redacted public version of the report points to the important fact that the decision to send me to Syria was made at the highest levels of President George W. Bush’s administration. The report found that the decision to send me to Syria was made before, and without regard for, the Immigration and Naturalization Service’s assessment that I would likely be tortured there.

Mr. Skinner’s report clearly establishes that what happened to me was a rendition in disguise. Mr. Skinner found that on Sunday, Oct. 6, 2002, the government prepared the “operations order” to remove me and sent flight clearances to Rome and Amman, so the United States could fly me on a private jet. These actions were taken before my six-hour interview with the INS concerning my fears of being tortured in Syria, before the INS concluded it was likely I would be tortured there and before the INS received supposed ambiguous “assurances” that I would be protected.

In other words, my fate had already been decided – the “immigration process” meant to safeguard me from torture was a sham.

So far, these high-level officials have evaded accountability and public scrutiny of their own wrongdoing by keeping me on their watch list, thereby attempting to keep the focus on me. The U.S. government claims to rely on classified information to keep me on the watch list – information that New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler has seen and called “nonsense,” and that Canadian Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day has seen and confirmed that it does not justify keeping me on a watch list.

The Canadian government has already apologized and launched a full public inquiry. It is only my hope that the U.S. government follows Ottawa’s example and rights its wrongs by at least conducting an independent investigation examining the actions of all officials who shipped me off to Syria like a parcel without regard for my basic human rights, international law or the U.S. Constitution.

I would like to commend the efforts of the U.S. House of Representatives foreign affairs and judiciary subcommittees trying to get to the bottom of what happened to me. I appreciate their courage in standing up for justice and reminding Mr. Bush’s administration that America is a country of the rule of law. It is my hope that through their persistence and good work, the full truth will eventually come out.

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