Stand Up For Torture Victim Maher Arar

Maher Arar

Maher Arar, ©Amnesty International

Today we mark the beginning of Torture Awareness Month by highlighting the case of Maher Arar.

Arar, a Canadian telecommunications engineer, was detained by US immigration while transiting New York on his way home from a family holiday and plunged into a Kafkaesque nightmare of torture and abuse.

In September 2002 Arar was traveling through JFK airport when he was pulled aside by US officials. Canadian police had generated a deeply flawed intelligence report based on a brief social encounter in Ottawa between Arar and ‘a person of interest.’ US officials accepted it without question and Arar’s nightmare began.

Despite his citizenship and residency in Canada, Arar was handed over illegally to the Syrian government – a country whose human rights record the United States has routinely condemned. He was held for 374 days before he was finally released and returned home:
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Congress Seeks to Improve Prison Conditions Around the World

For years, we’ve documented horrendous conditions in prisons all around the world in our Annual Report. Detainees are often held in inhumane prison conditions, including overcrowding and inadequate food, water and medical care, and are often subjected to other forms of ill-treatment and torture. Family members and legal counsel are often barred from visiting, and juveniles can be detained with adults. Every day, prisoners around the world die in prison due to ill-treatment, in contravention of international human rights standards.

But I’m happy to report that the US Congress is finally paying attention. Just a little over two weeks ago, Senators Patrick Leahy and Sam Brownback and Congressmen Bill Delahunt and Joseph Pitts introduced the Foreign Prison Conditions Improvement Act of 2010 (S.3798 in the Senate and H.R.6153 in the House of Representatives).

On any given day, millions of people are languishing in foreign prisons, many awaiting trial not yet having been formally charged or proven guilty of anything, deprived of their freedom for years longer than they could have been sentenced to prison if convicted. Others convicted of crimes, often after woefully unfair trials, including for nothing more than peacefully expressing political or religious beliefs or defending human rights. Regardless of their status they have one thing in common. They are deprived of the most basic rights and necessities–safe water, adequate food, essential medical care, personal safety, and dignity.

Anyone who has been inside one of these facilities, or seen photographs or the press reports of what they are like, understands that I am talking about the mistreatment of human beings in ways that are reminiscent of the Dark Ages.

- Senator Patrick Leahy, introducing the bill on September 16, 2010

The bill would help ensure that countries receiving US assistance do not operate prisons and other detention facilities under inhumane conditions and would provide assistance to countries making significant efforts to improve conditions in their prisons. Most importantly, the bill would mandate that the US government reprogram, restructure or even decrease US assistance to countries unwilling to improve prison conditions.

So take action today by asking your Members of Congress to co-sponsor the Foreign Prison Conditions Improvement Act. Your voice will help ensure that this Congress takes action on this important issue and that we don’t have to wait any longer to see improvements in prison conditions around the world.