[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.
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 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
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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