What the hell kind of country do we live in?!!

Apparently one in which government officials can torture totally innocent people with impunity if they think the person might be a terrorist and one in which prosecutors are granted complete immunity to frame someone for murder.  Hyperbole?  Sadly, no– just today's news.  Truly, truly depressing.  Each of these totally deserves their own post, but I thought I'd combine because it truly says something about the sad state of our democracy.  

First, the torture bit.  The facts, courtesy of Glenn Greenwald:

  Maher Arar is both a Canadian and Syrian citizen of Syrian
descent.  A telecommunications engineer and graduate of Montreal's
McGill University, he has lived in Canada since he's 17 years old.  In
2002, he was returning home to Canada from vacation when, on a stopover
at JFK Airport, he was (a) detained by U.S. officials, (b) accused of
being a Terrorist, (c) held for two weeks incommunicado and
without access to counsel while he was abusively interrogated, and then
(d) was "rendered" — despite his pleas that he would be tortured — to
Syria, to be interrogated and tortured.  He remained in Syria for the
next 10 months under the most brutal and inhumane conditions
imaginable, where he was repeatedly tortured.  Everyone acknowledges
that Arar was never involved with Terrorism and was guilty of
nothing…

In January, 2007, the Canadian Prime Minister publicly apologized to Arar
for the role Canada played in these events, and the Canadian government
paid him $9 million in compensation.  That was preceded by a full
investigation by Canadian authorities and the public disclosure of a detailed report which concluded "categorically that there is no evidence to indicate that Mr. Arar has committed  Maher Arar is both a Canadian and Syrian citizen of Syrian
descent.  A telecommunications engineer and graduate of Montreal's
McGill University, he has lived in Canada since he's 17 years old.  In
2002, he was returning home to Canada from vacation when, on a stopover
at JFK Airport, he was (a) detained by U.S. officials, (b) accused of
being a Terrorist, (c) held for two weeks incommunicado and
without access to counsel while he was abusively interrogated, and then
(d) was "rendered" — despite his pleas that he would be tortured — to
Syria, to be interrogated and tortured.  He remained in Syria for the
next 10 months under the most brutal and inhumane conditions
imaginable, where he was repeatedly tortured.  Everyone acknowledges
that Arar was never involved with Terrorism and was guilty of
nothing…

In January, 2007, the Canadian Prime Minister publicly apologized to Arar
for the role Canada played in these events, and the Canadian government
paid him $9 million in compensation.  That was preceded by a full
investigation by Canadian authorities and the public disclosure of a detailed report which concluded "categorically that there is no evidence to indicate that Mr. Arar has committed any offense…

So, what did the American 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals decide?  Sorry, despite the fact that Canada published two phone books worth of material on this case, Arar could not sue the U.S Government in order to protect "state secrets."  Sorry, it is no secret how craven and dismissive of liberty our government has become.  Like the constitutional scholar he is, Greenwald sums it up brilliantly:

In other words, government officials are free to do anything they want
in the national security context — even violate the law and purposely
cause someone to be tortured — and courts should honor and defer to
their actions by refusing to scrutinize them. 
(emphasis mine)

Reflecting the type of people who fill our judiciary, the judges in the
majority also invented the most morally depraved bureaucratic
requirements for Arar to proceed with his case and then claimed he had
failed to meet them.  Arar did not, for instance, have the names of the
individuals who detained and abused him at JFK, which the majority said
he must have.  As Judge Sack in dissent said of that requirement:  it
"means government miscreants may avoid [] liability altogether through
the simple expedient of wearing hoods while inflicting injury" (p. 27; emphasis added).

If you are not disgusted, you don't deserve your rights.  On a similarly, though not quite as depressing note, the Supreme Court just heard oral arguments in a case in which prosecutors knowingly framed two innocent men and sent them to jail for life, but they argue, and the Obama administration joins them, that prosecutors have absolute immunity in such matters.  Hey, maybe we just need to let prosecutors loose on terrorists.  They can waterboard them, threaten family members, all sorts of good stuff.  That would surely bring in lots of credible and valuable confessions!  Anyway, NPR had a a agreat story on the matter today.  You can listen or read it at the link.  Please do.  Really.

The bright side on this one, is that maybe, just maybe, the US Supreme Court will rule that prosecutors are not actually a law unto themselves.  I'm not holding my breath on that, though.  Sigh.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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