9/11 Families Speak Out Against Torture

By Adele Welty, with Marianne Stone, of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows

On September 11th, my son, a Firefighter intent on saving lives, lost his life at the World Trade Center.

I am a member of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, a group born out of the grief of losing family members in the attacks of 9/11 that promotes nonviolent options in the pursuit of justice rather than revenge.


Deliverance From Torture

Guest post by Colonel Morris Davis, former chief prosecutor for military commissions

There was something familiar about the Abu Ghraib pictures when I saw them in the spring of 2004.

I was a teenager in 1972 when Deliverance debuted.  It was a movie about four friends on a whitewater canoeing trip starring Burt Reynolds.  The friends got separated in the backwoods, and the characters played by Ned Beatty and Jon Voight were taken at gunpoint by two hillbillies.  In the most intense scene in the movie, Ned Beatty’s character is forced to strip naked, he’s slapped around by one of the hillbillies who humiliates him by making him squeal like a pig, and then he is sexually assaulted.  Suddenly, Burt Reynolds steps out of the woods with his bow drawn and fires an arrow that puts an end to the abuse.

Ned Beatty should be thankful he was with Burt Reynolds and not Barack Obama.  The President probably would have said, “You hillbillies go on about your way.  We’ve got a lot of rough water ahead of us and we can’t afford to look back.”

It is disappointing to those who believed Obama’s election marked the beginning of a reckoning with America’s descent into torture.  Rather than drawing a bead on impunity, the President has lowered his bow and let it go.


The Dirty Secret About ‘Clean’ Torture

By Darius Rejali, professor and Chair of political science at Reed College

Maher Arar

Imagine if you were arrested in a foreign country and for nine days the police beat you with a shredded electric cable. Now imagine, three days after the beatings stop, the police take you to meet your country’s embassy counsel. The police threaten you with more torture if you speak of the beatings.

Fearful of their threats, you hope the scars of torture will reveal the injustice. But your counsel sees no marks and you are led back to your cell where the torture continues.

This is what happened to Canadian Maher Arar.  His story should be a warning to anyone who thinks that the evidence of torture is always obvious. As watchdog groups discover the signs of torture, the torturers evolve their techniques. As we go into the twenty first century, torture is changing and concerned citizens need to keep pace.


Help End Torture: Join Our Webinar for Activists

Maher Arar Grassroots Activism

Amnesty activists created a giant paper airplane petition calling on President Obama and Congress to apologize to Maher Arar at the AGM in San Francisco in March 2011.

What can you do to help end torture during Torture Awareness Month? Start by joining an interactive webinar with Amnesty International staff and other activists on Thursday, June 9th at 8 PM EDT/ 5 PM PDT. The discussion will focus on how grassroots activism can be used to end torture and hold governments accountable for human rights violations.

Sunday, June 26th marks the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, the focal point of June’s Torture Awareness Month. During this month, the Security with Human Rights (SWHR) campaign of Amnesty International is focusing attention on the moving case of Maher Arar.

Arar, a Canadian national, was detained at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York while traveling home from a family trip to Tunisia in 2002. US officials then sent him to Syria where he was tortured and illegally imprisoned for almost one year. In a June 1, 2011 blog post, Tom Parker, Policy Director for the SWHR campaign, described how this innocent man was swept up by the post-9/11 US national security program. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

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:

A Judicious Inquiry

This morning the new Conservative government in Great Britain announced that it will hold a “judge-led” inquiry into the role played by British officials in human rights abuses committed as part of the Global War on Terror.

The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, pledged that the inquiry would also have the power to direct the payment of financial compensation to the victims of proven abuses – as required by the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights.

The inquiry will go forward once pre-existing criminal investigations into the alleged actions of at least two British intelligence officers have been completed.

Particular attention will be paid to the provenance of secret legal advice given to British intelligence officers working in the field in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks that while they must not “be seen to condone” torture they were also not under obligation to prevent the mistreatment of detainees:

“Given that they are not within our custody or control, the law does not require you to intervene to prevent this.”

Already speculation is mounting that former Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown will be called to testify before the inquiry, as well as a host of former Labour ministers and senior intelligence and military officials.

Support for the inquiry has come from a surprising range of public figures including a former Director of Public Prosecutions, a former Chief of the UK Defence Staff, a former British Foreign Secretary, and the current leader of the Liberal Democrats who is now deputy leader of the new coalition government.

The British government’s decision also represents an important win for the Amnesty movement with the UK section calling in March for the institution of just such a judicial inquiry.


The Cancer of Democracy

Last month, representing Amnesty International in a meeting at the State Department, I listened to the new Legal Adviser Harold Koh, former Dean of the Yale Law School, describe the Obama administration as the anti-torture presidency.

That is a bold claim and the International Day in Support of the Victims of Torture is the perfect moment to take a step back and review the administration’s record on this issue. Can Obama really claim to be the anti-torture president?

As far as human rights groups were concerned the Obama administration got off to a flying start with the executive orders pledging to close Guantanamo and restricting all US personnel to using interrogation techniques delineated in the 2006 Army Field Manual on Interrogations.

Unfortunately this was high point and it has been downhill all the way ever since. While the Executive Order put an apparent end to waterboarding and CIA black sites the 2006 Interrogations Field Manual is itself far from unproblematic.

There is nothing in the manual to prevent the reintroduction of the so-called “frequent flyer” technique of constantly waking and rewaking an individual after only a few minutes sleep so that no effective rest is gained at all.

In the past eight months credible reports have emerged that such techniques are still being used in US military detainee screening centers in Afghanistan. An earlier US Army field manual explicitly prohibited “abnormal sleep deprivation” as a form of “mental torture.”


SCOTUS to Arar: the USA Can Send You to Be Tortured

Maher Arar is reunited with his family after being released from Syria where he was held for almost a year without charge.

Maher Arar is a 34-year-old engineer and Canadian citizen born in Syria. According to Arar, in 2002, while he was in transit in New York City’s JFK Airport, after coming back from a vacation with his family, he was interrogated and detained by U.S. Officials alleging presumed links to al-Qaeda. Days later, he was secretly rendered to Syria, where he was held for almost one year under no formal charges, constant torture –including severe beating and the constant threat to be tortured harder— and was forced to falsely confess his links to the organization.

Most of the time he was held on a three feet wide, six feet deep and seven feet high cell, with no windows and with rats and cats everywhere.  After his release to Canada, the Government created a Commission of Inquiry that cleared Arar from all terrorist allegations and entitled him to compensation.

In 2004, in order to determine the responsibility of the U.S. Officials involved in his rendition to torture, Maher Arar filed a suit in the District Court for the Eastern District of New York against former Attorney General John Ashcroft, FBI Director Robert Mueller, and Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, as well as numerous Immigration Officials. However, the District Court of Brooklyn dismissed the suit, based on national security grounds. It held that the reasons why Arar was considered a member of al-Qaeda and transferred to Syria, were state secrets and that their disclosure would reveal intelligence methods, affecting national security and U.S. foreign relations.

In 2006, he appealed the decision before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the dismissal, and for those reasons, in 2010, he petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review his case.

On June 14, 2010, the Supreme Court rejected his writ of certiorari, eliminating Maher Arar’s last hope to find an answer in the U.S. judicial system for the “egregious wrong done” to him, as one of his lawyers said.