Down With the “Anti-Terrorist” Witchhunt! Down With the USA-Patriot Act!

The Deportation, Detention and Torture of Maher Arar

Reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 816, 26 December 2003.

On 26 September 2002 Syrian-born Canadian citizen Maher Arar was arrested by officials of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) at New York’s Kennedy Airport. Maher Arar, a 33-year-old telecommunications engineer, was on his way back to Canada after a family vacation in Tunisia and was waiting for his connecting flight when he was abducted by INS officials.

Arar was taken to a secluded area of Kennedy Airport and interrogated. His interrogators hurled insults and questions at him for hours while denying him the right to legal counsel. His requests to be sent back to his home in Canada were ignored. Instead he was taken to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, where he was strip-searched. During his detention he again asked to be sent back to Canada and not Syria, where he feared being tortured. After confining Arar for over a week, U.S. authorities deported him to Syria, a country he had not set foot in for some 16 years.

He was beaten in the van that took him from Jordan to the Syrian prison where he was held. He was placed in a dark cell. In a moving description of his ordeal, Arar wrote in a piece published in the Los Angeles Times (10 December):

“I describe my cell in Syria as a grave because it was just 3 feet wide, 6 feet long, 7 feet high and unlit. While I was there I sometimes felt on the verge of death after beatings with a black electrical cable about two inches thick. They mostly aimed for my palms but sometimes missed and hit my wrists. Other times, I was left alone in a special ‘waiting room’ within earshot of others’ screams. At the end of the day, they would tell me that tomorrow would be worse. In those 10 1/2 months I lost about 40 pounds. I never saw, but only heard, the agony of my fellow prisoners. I was so scared I urinated on myself twice.”

Arar said he would have admitted to anything to end the torture. He continued in his piece:

“I agreed to sign any document they put before me, even those I wasn’t allowed to read. And eventually I would say anything at all to avoid more torture. ‘Do you want me to use that?’ someone would ask when I didn’t answer soon enough, pointing to a steel chair in the corner of the interrogation room.

“No, I told them, I did not want them to use that. And yes, I told them, I had been to Afghanistan. It wasn’t true, but it seemed important enough to my jailers. After a month, broken physically and mentally, I was also instructed to write these things down on a piece of paper next to other answers to other questions that they had gone ahead and penned on my behalf.”

The Grand Inquisitors of the Spanish Inquisition could get their victims to admit to the most fantastic and absurd acts of witchcraft. This was accepted as evidence proving that the accused had intimate relations with the devil. Torture techniques today are if anything more effective in getting their victims to make self-incriminating statements. With the mentality of bloodthirsty crusaders carrying out their global “war against evil,” Bush administration officials have pointed to the confessions extracted from Arar under torture as evidence of his supposed guilt (New York Times, 15 November)!

Arar was fortunate enough to have a determined activist wife, Monia Mazigh, who campaigned for human rights groups to take up the fight for his freedom. On October 5, the Canadian government finally secured Arar’s release from imprisonment in Syria. The next day he arrived back in Canada, ending his 375-day ordeal. Arar of course renounced the lies he was forced to tell under torture and is struggling to get his life back. His family is currently living on welfare as Arar won’t be able to return to his profession until he can clear his name.

Arar’s ordeal was the result of the INS working with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to profile Arar as a terrorist. As our comrades of the Trotskyist League/Ligue Trotskyste of Canada wrote in Spartacist Canada (No. 139, Winter 2003/2004): “If not for the dossier of information provided by Canadian security services that got him put on the U.S. ‘Viper’ watch list, Arar’s transit through the U.S. last year might have been as uneventful as his many other recent trips there—his U.S. work permit had even been renewed post-9/11.”

During his interrogation, the INS showed Arar a copy of his 1997 apartment lease which was witnessed and signed by Abdullah Almalki, another Canadian citizen whom Arar encountered during his imprisonment in Syria who was tortured even more severely than Arar. No one knows how many victims of the “anti-terror” witchhunt languish under such conditions, let alone how many have died. The ostensible link the RCMP drew between Abdullah Almalki and “terrorism” is the suspicion that his brother sells computer equipment to companies who in turn sell it to other companies and which eventually ends up in the hands of supposed “terrorists.” Based on these criteria anyone that had a relative who sold as much as a box-cutter that eventually ended up in the hands of someone the FBI and RCMP regard as a terrorist could be stripped of all legal rights and treated like an “enemy combatant.”

Defend Democratic Rights!

On November 11, Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Senate voted for sanctions against Syria if its government fails to provide more “assistance” in the “war on terror.” On December 12, President Bush signed the bill. The torture of Maher Arar is an example of the kind of “assistance” they’re demanding more of. Commenting on the relationship between the U.S. government and the Syrian regime, the Washington Post (5 November) quotes the counterterrorism coordinator for the State Department, Cofer Black, as praising the “assistance” the Syrian government has provided on Al Qaeda. The U.S. in fact has established a policy of deporting suspects to countries where they expect them to be tortured. The policy is known as “extraordinary rendition.” It was started in 1998 under the Clinton administration. In addition to Syria, the CIA now deports its victims to Jordan, Egypt and Morocco.

The ordeal inflicted on Arar by U.S. federal authorities is part of their never-ending global “war against terror.” This so-called “war” has been used to excuse the denial of democratic rights to anyone this government suspects of posing a threat. The U.S. government is holding hundreds of prisoners at the American military base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. These prisoners, who include youths, are being deprived of the legal rights of “prisoners of war.” Though a few have been released, those who remain have been denied any contact with lawyers and their families, a promised exception being made for a few British and Australian citizens. This treatment reflects what is done to prisoners by American-supported regimes ruled by dictators from the Near East to Africa and Latin America. We demand freedom for the Guantánamo detainees!

Arar was treated like an “enemy combatant,” a status which justifies being stripped of all democratic rights. In the “war against terror” American citizens, who supposedly are guaranteed their democratic rights under the Constitution, can have these rights stripped away as well.

Jose Padilla has been declared an “enemy combatant” and indefinitely imprisoned without charges, a hearing or representation by a lawyer. In an amici curiae brief filed by the Spartacist League and the Partisan Defense Committee, we state: “The Executive has imposed martial law on Jose Padilla, a citizen, on the pretext of an alleged ‘war on terrorism’ which is in fact not a military conflict but a political agenda. This is an unprecedented assertion of imperial powers by the President.” The “war on terror” is no more a real shooting war than is a “war on evil” or “war on cancer.”

The Democratic Party paved the way for Bush, and in fact most of the immigrants who have been detained since the September 11 attacks are being held under “anti-terrorism” laws enacted under Clinton. At the same time, measures like the USA-Patriot Act, which received bipartisan support, mark a qualitative diminution of democratic rights in the U.S.

What stands behind the “war on terror” and the attacks on democratic rights is the need by large sections of the bourgeoisie and their capitalist state to increase repressive control over the population, particularly working people, blacks and immigrants. These police-state measures were illustrated by the occupation of the black community of Benton Harbor, Michigan following an explosion of community rage over acts of deadly police brutality in June. Virtual martial law was imposed on the community, which was invaded by hundreds of cops in riot gear along with armored vehicles.

These measures are also designed to improve the government’s ability to attack labor unions and bust strikes. Every democratic right working people and minorities enjoy today has been won through protracted and militant struggle. The current assault on these rights illustrates that without struggle these rights will be taken away.

The way to fight the continued evisceration of democratic rights and the kind of ordeal inflicted on Maher Arar was demonstrated in Oakland on 9 February 2002, when the Partisan Defense Committee and the Bay Area Labor Black League for Social Defense initiated a united-front protest against the Patriot and Maritime Security Acts. This demonstration brought together the struggles of immigrants, blacks and organized labor in opposition to the government’s anti-immigrant hysteria. It is the multiracial labor movement, with its significant immigrant component, that has the social power to lead all the oppressed in a struggle against the government’s repressive measures.

The fight to build a revolutionary workers party, independent of the Democratic and Republican parties of capitalism, is critical for mobilizing the power of labor against racist repression and in defense of immigrants as part of the struggle for a workers government. Full citizenship rights for all immigrants! Down with the “war on terror”! Down with the USA-Patriot Act! Free the detainees!

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