You might remember the case of Maher Arar from a few years back. Arar was on his way to his home in Canada via JFK Airport. He had been on vacation. While at JFK, Arar was detained and eventually shipped to Syria in one of those “extraordinary rendition” cases. While being “interrogated” in Syria on suspicion of being a member of al Qaeda, Arar claims he was tortured – which is not too surprising considering that he was in the custody of the Syrian government. During this time it was important for Bush to be able to say, “We don’t torture” (even though we do), by blaming all the torture on governments which we know will torture suspects we send them. It’s a lot like how Christian and Buddhist theocracies would hand over suspected witches or runaway serfs to a more secular institution so as to not appear to have blood on their hands – even though of course they still do. Here is a video of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) going after then Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in early 2007 regarding Arar’s case. It’s a good moment for the old guy. He actually gets as angry as one ought to be given the circumstances. Yelling starts just after 4 minutes in:
Anywho, after a while it appeared that an error had been made in considering Arar was even a suspect in the first place. The Canadian government admitted it had named him to the American government as a person of interest in the “war on terror” and settled the case by awarding him millions of dollars for giving the US government cause to ship him off to Syria to be tortured. But just recently the opposite has happened here in the US.
So let’s say you’re this kind of laid-back guy named Joe Canada. And you’ve got this buddy named Johnny America. And Johnny’s a bit temperamental, and you know this. You’re out at a bar and you think you see the guy who threw dogshit at Johnny’s house last week. You point him out to Johnny, and he goes over and pummels the guy. Later you realize you were wrong and apologize to the guy while he’s in the hospital.
See, even though you didn’t actually touch the guy, you set in motion a chain of events where the end result would be ridiculously out of proportion. That’s what Canada did by mistakenly fingering Arar, and that’s what the US did by sending him to Syria. One of the two governments is mature enough to be able to admit that they made a mistake. One of them isn’t. Guess which is which.
If you’re interested in reading about this story from the point of view of someone who actually knows what they’re talking about, Glenn Greenwald has a blog post about this case which is worth reading, like most of what he writes. And while on the subject of torture it’s probably worth noting that a recent study shows evidence that the pain of torture can make innocent seem guilty. So it’s not just that torture makes people with political ideas and beliefs like mine queasy, it’s that this stuff just doesn’t work. At all.