[Ppnews] The Horrors of "Extraordinary Rendition"

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Oct 26 17:37:04 EDT 2006

The Horrors of "Extraordinary Rendition"

Maher Arar | October 18, 2006

Editor: Emily Schwartz Greco, IPS


Editors Note: Canadian citizen Maher Arar, who is 
barred from entering the United States, delivered 
his acceptance speech for the 
International Human Rights Award in a 
This is a transcript of his speech, which was 
viewed at the award ceremony hosted by the 
Institute for Policy Studies on Oct. 18, 2006 in Washington, DC.

Hello my name is Maher Arar. Sorry I could not join you for today's ceremony.

All Center for Constitutional Rights Staff and I 
are humbled to have been chosen this year's 
recipient for the Letelier-Moffitt International 
Human Rights Award. This award means a tremendous 
amount to us. It means that there are still 
Americans out there who value our struggle for justice.

It means that there are Americans out there who 
are truly concerned about the future of America. 
We now know that my story is not a unique one. 
Over the past two years we have heard from many 
other people who were, who have been kidnapped, 
unlawfully detained, tortured and eventually 
released without being charged with any crime in any country.

JFK Stopover

My nightmare began on September 26, 2002. I was 
transiting through New York airport, JFK Airport, 
when they asked me to wait in a waiting area. I 
found that to be strange. Shortly after, some FBI 
officials came to see me and they asked me 
whether, I was willing to be interviewed.

My first immediate reaction was to ask for a 
lawyer and I was surprised when they told me that 
I had no right to a lawyer because I was not an American citizen.

Then I asked for a phone call, I wanted to call 
my family to let them know what was going on. And 
they just ignored my request.

Then they told me, we only have couple of 
questions for you and we'll let you go. So I 
agreed. I had nothing to hide. And the 
interrogation started. Soon after, you know, they 
asked me about people I knew. It was deeper, 
until the interrogation was going deeper and deeper and deeper.

During this time, they played mind games with me. 
They would sometimes insult me; say to me 
something like you're smart. Other times they would accuse me of being dumb.

And, I repeatedly ask for a lawyer, to make a 
phone call. They always ignored my question.

The interrogation that day lasted about four 
hours with the FBI officials and another four 
hours with immigration. At the end of that day, 
instead of sending me back to Canada, they 
shackled and chained me and sent me to another, 
another terminal in the airport where I stayed 
overnight and in that place, in that room they 
kept me in, the lights were, were always on. 
There was no bed in that room and I could not sleep that night.

The next day another set of interrogations 
started. This time it was about, they asked me 
about political opinions--I answered openly, I 
didn't try to hide my political opinions. The 
asked me about Iraq. They asked me about 
Palestine and so many other issues. And they 
also, if I remember correctly, asked me about my 
emails and some other questions.

Going to Syria

And they told me that day we are about to decide 
about your fate. At the end of that day, 
surprisingly, one of the immigration officers 
came and asked me to volunteer to go to Syria. I 
said to them: why do you want me to go to Syria, 
I've never been there for 17 years. And they say, 
"You are special interest." Of course, back then 
I did not know what this expression meant. But it 
was clear that the Americans, the officer did not want me to go to Canada.

When he insisted, I said, let me go back to 
Switzerland. That was my point of departure 
before I arrived at JFK and he refused. 
Eventually they took me into the Metropolitan 
Detention Center, a federal prison, where they 
kept me for about 12 days. During this time I was 
interviewed for six hours by INS. It was a very 
exhaustive interview from 9PM to like around 3AM 
in the morning. When I asked them to, during this 
interview to go, to allow me to go back to my 
cell to perform my prayer, they refused, completely refused.

Also during my stay at the Metropolitan Detention 
Center I could clearly see that I was being 
treated differently from other prisoners. For 
example, they didn't give me toothpaste they 
would allow me to go for recreation for about a 
week. They always ignored my demand for making a 
phone call. Eventually they allowed me to make a 
phone call. Up until that time, which was a week 
after I was arrested, no one in my family knew 
where I was. My wife thought I was disappeared, I 
was killed. No one knew exactly what happened, 
until I informed my mother-in-law that I was arrested.

Eventually on October 8th, against my will, they 
took me out of my cell. They basically read the 
pieces of document to me saying, that we will be 
sending you Syria. And when I complained, I said 
to them, I did explain to you if I'm sent back I 
will be tortured and they, I remember, the INS 
person flipped a couple of pages in this 
document, to the end of this document and read to 
me a paragraph that I still remember until today, 
an extremely shocking statement she made to me.

She said something like: The INS is not the body 
or the agency that signed the Geneva Convention, 
convention against torture. For me what that 
really meant is we will send you to torture and we don't care.

So they put me on a private jet, which I found 
extremely strange. I was the only passenger on 
that, on that plane. Its a luxurious plane, with 
leather seats in it. My only preoccupation during 
this trip is how I could avoid torture. By then, 
I realized that they were exactly sending me to 
Syria for torture. And that became very clear to 
me. Then the plane flew to Washington from 
Washington it flew to Maine then to Rome, then from Rome to Jordan.

Shackled and Chained

And I remember on the plane I was most of the 
time I was shackled and chained except the last 
two hours when they offered me a shish-kabob 
dinner. Up until this day I do not, I cannot 
explain why they did that. If I was a dangerous 
person like they claimed in the beginning, why 
they would remove my chains and shackles the last two hours of the trip?

During also the trip, whenever I wanted to use 
the bathroom, one of the team members would go 
inside with me. Even though I complained that 
this was against my religious belief.

The plane landed in Jordan on three in the 
morning October 8th. And a couple of Jordanians 
were waiting, men, were waiting for me. They took 
me, they blindfolded me, they put me in a car and 
shortly after they started beating me on the back 
of my head. Whenever I complained about the 
beating they would actually start beating me more. So I just kept silent.

I stayed in Jordan for about 12 hours in a 
detention center. I still don't know what that place is.

I was always blindfolded whenever they took me 
from one cell to another or when they took me to 
see the doctor. But I felt something strange in 
that prison. I felt, what, that I used an 
elevator, which is quite strange for a Middle Eastern prison.

After 12 hours of detention, unlawful detention 
in Jordan I was eventually driven to Syria. And I 
just didn't want to believe that I was going to 
Syria. I always was hoping that someone, a 
miracle would happen--the Canadian government 
would intervene. A miracle would happen that 
would take me back to my country Canada.

I arrived in Syria that same day, at the end of 
the day and I was able to confirm that I was in 
fact in Syria after my blindfold was removed and 
I was able to see the pictures of the Syrian 
President. My feeling then is I just wanted to 
kill myself because I knew what was coming. I 
knew that the Americans, the American government send me there to be tortured.

Sometime later the interrogators came in. They 
started asking questions, routine questions at 
the beginning, but whenever I hesitated to answer 
their questions or whenever they thought I was 
lying one of them would threaten me with a chair, 
a metallic chair with no seats in it, only the 
frames. And back then I did not understand or I 
did not know how they would torture people with 
it. I later learned that from other prison inmates.

But the message was clear: if you don't speak 
quickly enough we will torture you. That day, the 
interrogation lasted about four hours. There was 
no physical beating; there was only verbal 
threats. Around midnight, they took me to the 
basement. In the basement, the guard opened a 
door for me, a metallic door. I could not believe 
my eyes. I looked at him and I said, what is 
that? He didn't answer. He just said to me: Enter.

The Grave

The cell was about three feet wide, six feet deep 
and about seven feet high. It was dark. There was 
no source of light in it. It was filthy. There 
were only two thin covers on the floor. I was 
naïve; I thought they would keep me in this place 
for one, two, maybe three days to put pressure on 
me. But this same place, the same cell that I 
later called the grave was my home 10 months and 
10 days. The only light that came into the cell 
was from the ceiling, from the opening in the 
ceiling. There was a small spotlight and that's it.

Life in the cell was impossible. At the 
beginning--even though it was a filthy place, it 
was like a grave--I preferred to stay in that 
cell rather than being beaten. Whenever I heard 
the guards coming to open my door I would just 
think, you know, this is it for me that would be my last day.

The beating started the following day. Without no 
warning...(long pause as he fights tears) without 
no warning the interrogator came in with a cable. 
He asked me to open my right hand. I did open it. 
And he hit me strongly on my palm. It was so 
painful to the point that I forgot every moment I enjoyed in my life.


This moment is still vivid in my mind because it 
was the first I was ever beaten in my life. Then 
he asked me to open my left hand. He hit me 
again. And that one missed and hit my wrist. The 
pain from that hit lasted approximately six 
months. And then he would ask me questions. And I 
would have to answer very quickly. And then he 
would repeat the beating this time anywhere on 
my, on my body. Sometimes he would take me to a 
room where I could, where I was alone, I could 
hear other prisoners being tortured, severely 
tortured. I remember that I used to hear their 
screams. I just couldn't believe it, that human 
beings would do this to other human beings.

And then they would take me back to the 
interrogation room. Again another set of 
questions, and the beating starts again and 
again. On the third day the beating was the 
worst. They beat me a lot with the cable. And 
they wanted me to confess that I have been to 
Afghanistan. This was a big surprise to me 
because even the Americans who interviewed me, 
the FBI officials who interviewed me, did not ask 
me that question. I ended up falsely confessing 
in order to stop the torture. The torture decreased in intensity.

 From that moment on they rarely used the cable. 
Mostly they slapped me on the face, they kicked 
me, they humiliated me all the time.

The first 10 days of my stay in Syria was 
extremely harsh and during that period I found my 
cell to be a refuge. I didn't want to see their 
faces. But later on living in that cell was 
horrible. And just to give you an idea about how 
painful it is to stay in that place--I was ready 
after a couple of months, I was ready to sign any 
piece of document for me, not to be released, 
just to go to another place where it is fit for human being.

During this time I wasn't aware that my wife 
launched a campaign with other human rights 
organizations like Amnesty International and 
others. My wife lobbied the media, she lobbied 
politicians and eventually I was released. The 
Syrians released me and they clearly stated 
through the ambassador in Washington that they 
did not find any links to terrorism. I was not 
charged in any country including Canada, United States, Jordan and Syria.

Since my release I have been suffering from 
anxiety, constant fear, and depression. My life 
will never be the same again. But I promised 
myself one thing, that I will continue my quest 
for justice as long as I have a breath. What 
keeps me going is my faith, Americans like 
yourselves and the hope that one day our planet 
Earth will be free of tyranny, torture and injustice.

Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen, was a victim of 
the U.S. policy known as "extraordinary 
rendition." He was detained by U.S. officials in 
2002, accused of terrorist links, and handed over 
to Syrian authorities, who tortured him. Arar is 
working with the Center for Constitutional Rights 
to appeal a case against the U.S. government that 
was dismissed on national security grounds.

The Freedom Archives
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