Thursday, January 18, 2007

Maher Arar - Newman in Wonderland!

Maher Arar, a dual Canadian and Syrian citizen, was detained by the U.S. INS while returning to Canada via New York. He was detained apparently on advice from the RCMP/CSIS that he had links with al Qaeda. Rather than deport him to Canada he was removed via Jordan to Syria where, Arar alleges, he was tortured. Naturally Syria denies this.

One rather absurd, 'Alice in Wonderland' theme that keeps recurring, especially among those (like the CBC) who leap at every opportunity to smear Republicans, is that Arar was deported to Syria explicitly to have him tortured for purposes of gaining intelligence. The assumption is that the U.S. was subcontracting its dirty work to Syria.

On the CBC’s ‘Politics’ show this afternoon Don Newman, in an interview with U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy repeated this preposterous line of thinking (twice). Leahy, a Democrat, obviously didn't offer up any denials for the Bush administration, and politely avoided setting Mr. Newman straight.

Leahy [48:00]: "...there's no question in my mind shipping him [Arar]back to Syria told us that he would face a very, very unpleasant time."

Newman: "Well that was the idea,was it not? To get information from him, and to get it extracted from him in a way that wouldn't happen in Canada or the United States."


Newman [50:20]: "Can you explain, briefly, because it is a bit of a puzzle to us in Canada. Syria seems to be one of the targets in the axis of evil from President Bush's speeches. Uh..Syria..he won't talk to them about Iraq because he sees them as an enemy supporting the insurgency and yet somehow American intelligence officers send off to Syria, to the Syrian intelligence service, a Canadian [and Syrian] citizen . How does this co-operation work between Syria and the United States on one level and there's no co-operation on any other? ... Why would Syria be prepared to co-operate with the United States in an activity like that if they're on the other ... be sort of like ...sending someone back to Nazi Germany in order to get some information?..."

Well, it doesn't "puzzle" me particularly. This loopy hypothesis is mainly a politically motivated 'story' for which there is no factual evidence and which has no reasonably logical basis. The U.S., with good reason, treats the Syrian regime as hostile to its interests and so would hardly trust any ‘intelligence’ supplied by Syria. There is no reason to expect co-operation between the U.S. and Syria in the war on terror.

So what happened? The simplest scenario seems most likely. The U.S. INS took at face value the information on Arar provided to them by the RCMP (and perhaps had their own information). He was treated as a terror suspect and rather than send him to Canada the INS chose to send him to his other 'home country’, Syria - as far from the U.S. as law would permit.

Was Arar unjustly treated? According to a Royal Commission he was. The head of the RCMP has apologized and resigned, and lawsuits are under way. And now that the Democrats control the U.S. House and Senate it will become a political issue there.

Update (Jan 27th):
Maybe there was more to Don Newman's 'puzzled' assertions than I had thought. David Frum's column in today's National Post peels back a layer or two on Syria - the regime's conflicts with its majority Sunnis and al-Qaeda and on the possibly nefarious relationship between the U.S. state department's "Arabists" and their co-operation with the Assad regime. Anyway, perhaps this is yet another instance proving that when it comes to Middle Eastern politics it doesn't pay to go with the simplest scenario but with the most convoluted and devious one.

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