Schneier on Security
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September 29, 2006
Faulty Data and the Arar Case
Maher Arar is a Syrian-born Canadian citizen. On September 26, 2002, he tried to fly from Switzerland to Toronto. Changing planes in New York, he was detained by the U.S. authorities, and eventually shipped to Syria where he was tortured. He's 100% innocent. (Background here.)
The Canadian government has completed its "Commission of Inquiry into the Actions of Canadian Officials in Relation to Maher Arar," the results of which are public. From their press release:
On Maher Arar, the Commissioner comes to one important conclusion: “I am able to say categorically that there is no evidence to indicate that Mr. Arar has committed any offence or that his activities constitute a threat to the security of Canada."
Certainly something that everyone who supports the U.S.'s right to detain and torture people without having to demonstrate their guilt should think about. But what's more interesting to readers of this blog is the role that inaccurate data played in the deportation and ultimately torture of an innocent man.
Privacy International summarizes the report. These are among their bullet points:
- The RCMP provided the U.S. with an entire database of information relating to a terrorism investigation (three CDs of information), in a way that did not comply with RCMP policies that require screening for relevance, reliability, and personal information. In fact, this action was without precedent.
- The RCMP provided the U.S. with inaccurate information about Arar that portrayed him in an infairly negative fashion and overstated his importance to a RCMP investigation. They included some "erroneous notes."
- While he was detained in the U.S., the RCMP provided information regarding him to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), "some of which portrayed him in an inaccurate and unfair way." The RCMP provided inaccurate information to the U.S. authorities that tended to link Arar to other terrorist suspects; and told the U.S. authorities that Arar had previously refused to be interviewed, which was also incorrect; and the RCMP also said that soon after refusing the interview he suddenly left Canada for Tunisia. "The statement about the refusal to be interviewed had the potential to arouse suspicion, especially among law enforcement officers, that Mr. Arar had something to hide." The RCMP's information to the U.S. authorities also placed Arar in the vicinity of Washington DC on September 11, 2001 when he was instead in California.
Judicial oversight is a security mechanism. It prevents the police from incarcerating the wrong person. The point of habeas corpus is that the police need to present their evidence in front of a neutral third party, and not indefinitely detain or torture people just because they believe they're guilty. We are all less secure if we water down these security measures.
Posted on September 29, 2006 at 7:06 AM
• 83 Comments
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"If he didn't do anything wrong, what was he afraid of?"
Without getting into a huge debate about the definition of torture, I think its a bit presumptious to assume that there is a large segment of the population out there that "support the U.S.'s right to...torture people..." under any circumstances.
"Judicial oversight is a security mechanism. It prevents the police from incarcerating the wrong person. The point of habeas corpus is that the police need to present their evidence in front of a neutral third party, and not indefinitely detain or torture people just because they believe they're guilty. We are all less secure if we water down these security measures."
Any comment on the passage of Bush's detention and torture bill, which legalizes the indefinite detention and torture of people without the need for formal charges?
Dont become the monster to destroy the monster.
We are better then this.
I think its high time for a world-wide cultural boycott of the United States.
Actually, a better term would be memetic quarantine.
Torture is NOT about interrogation.
Torture is about scared people trying to exercise control over other people.
>We are better then this.
No, we aren't. If we were, Bush wouldn't have gotten 10% of the votes.
We do this because we're cowards and bullies. Bush is president because a majority of the country are cowards and bullies.
>Judicial oversight is a security mechanism.
For us. But the people choosing the security measures aren't concerned with providing security with us.
It's another aspect of "Follow the money." What are they trying to secure?
I think another point to be made here is that the definition and execution of torture here in the United States is probably a far cry from what it would be considered in Syria.
My biggest beef with the PATRIOT Act since the beginning has been the ability for law enforcement to be able to act without having to obtain and execute a warrant, simply by making a claim to links of terrorism. If their evidence is proper and in order, I don't see any reason why the additional step of obtaining a warrant is that much of a hassle. The only obstacle would be in cases where the evidence constitutes elements of "national security", but this is one of the instances of why documents are allowed to be sealed in court transactions.
The recent debacle we had in Florida with Sami Al Aryan (sic) is a perfect example of this. He was held for a long period of time without formally being charged with anything, shuffled through one correction facility after another to make it difficult for counsel to be able to meet with him, tried in a court of law where the jury ruled "not guilty" on half of the counts (the other half were ruled a mistrial, and to my knowledge, have not been retried), and the government still wants to deport him (something about an expired or invalid visa, if I remember correctly). If he did something wrong, fine. Charge him and try him as you would any other criminal suspect. After all of the legal theatre, deporting him just after the fact makes our justice system look heavy handed indeed.
It's a shame we can't write the phrase "put up or shut up" in public law enforcement policy.
@DM: What about Canada? Their stupid intelligence report was at much at fault as the US action.
I'm not sure I understand this. He was a *Canadian* citizen, but he was shipped to *Syria* - a country that the USofA is not exactly on the most friendly of terms with? One of the "axis of evil" state sponsors of terrorism?
Sounds like someone over at the FBI/DHS really screwed up, big time.
And Bruce, how about "detain and interrogate" instead of "detain and torture"? I don't know of too many people who are coming out and supporting the use of torture, and as I understand it law enforcement *does* have a right to detain and interrogate suspects. While there is judicial oversight in normal criminal investigations, the whole issue of whether or not it is appropriate - and if so at what level - in the cases of those detained as irrregular combatants is what is being debated.
As far as the data being wrong, I think the following applies: if the data used as input smells like s**t, why do you expect the output to smell like a rose?
"If he didn't do anything wrong, what was he afraid of?"
The common things, "Driving while black", "Flying while Arab", "Being in posession of cash while Hispanic". In the end, the injustices being perpetrated are going to have long lasting negative consequences for the US.
> I think its high time for a world-wide cultural boycott of the United States.
What, so I'd have to start by no longer reading this blog then?
I'd prefer to protest and boycott specifically against the crew of maniacs in charge than the people who have to live with them. Only 51% of 35% of the population even voted for them.
I quite like the term "memetic quarantine", though. A nicely clinical way of saying "la la la, I'm not listening" :-)
> I don't know of too many people who are coming out and supporting the use of torture
Well, nobody says "I support torture". But if someone says "I support X, and X is actually not torture at all, it's a perfectly valid interrogation technique", but I happen to think that X is torture, then as far as I'm concerned they support torture.
X might be "water-boarding", or "stress positions", or "forced wakefulness", or "threatening to execute prisoners" - any of the things which are still approved for use by US officials, but which international human rights organisations condemn.
Come to think of it, here's a useful test:
Anything which George Bush is prepared to have done to him for 30 minutes on national television by a team of expert Syrian interrogators, he can declare not to be torture.
I'm not serious, by the way. Bush is a pretty old guy, I doubt he'd survive a routine interrogation for that long.
> Sounds like someone over at the FBI/DHS really screwed up, big time.
Not really - the US isn't best of friends with Syria, but intelligence from Syrian interrogators is still fed into US terrorist watchlists.
If this guy Arar had actually been a terrorist, then the result of shipping him to Syria would have been a list of all this terrorist friends (plus whatever other names he shouted out in the hope of making the 'interrogation' stop). That's valuable stuff no matter what the diplomats say.
(Anon comment above was me too, forgot to sign it).
>X might be "water-boarding", or "stress positions",
>or "forced wakefulness", or "threatening to
>execute prisoners" - any of the things which are
>still approved for use by US officials, but which
>international human rights organisations condemn.
All of which are completely useless for obtaining accurate information but great for building up hate and resentment. Ah well.
Don't do it on national TV. Edit the scenes into a 90-minute documentary and sell it on DVD, worldwide. It'll be a hit! You could get rid of the national debt that way.
@DM- "I think its high time for a world-wide cultural boycott of the United States."
I think sanctions are more appropirate against a regime which: advocates Torture, installs "Kangaroo" Courts (appologies to kangaroos everywhere), suspends Habeus Corpus, violates the Genva Conventions, and whose leaders have breached the U.N. charter by a jus cogens offense.
I'm no legal expert (especially regading USA) but I thought that if the police violated your rights e.g. caught searching house without a warranty then the police risk big damages in court.
Does Mr Arar have any legal redress here? As soon as the authorities know that they will be held accountable for misusing data, then this sort of thing will become less common. It's almost inveitable that if the authorities can use 'terror' as an excuse for low quality intelligance, they will keep making mistakes.
I believe Mr. Arar did try to bring the matter to court, but the courts were told by the US administration to drop the matter because it concerns "national security", and the courts promptly complied.
"Without getting into a huge debate about the definition of torture, I think its a bit presumptious to assume that there is a large segment of the population out there that 'support the U.S.'s right to...torture people...' under any circumstances."
I was thinking of Congress.
"Their stupid intelligence report was at much at fault as the US action."
The Canadian report I read focused on Canada's actions, and definitely fault's Canada for bad data.
Legal actions are pending in Canada. The Commissioner of the RCMP "apologized" yesterday but stopped short of resigning (as any truly honourable person would have). The Canadian Conservative government (which was not in power at the time of this tragic incident) will likely make some decent settlements with Mr. Arar.
another aspect of this i find chilling is that with the propensity of this administration to "outsource" various functions (i understand the IRS is even using them for collections), i wonder if they would ever -- or might even now -- let contracts for third parties to do DHS/NSA surveillence of people using tools like this (http://www.etelemetry.com/product_metron_features.htm). if so, then like Haliburton in Iraq, and like my personal experience with small beltway companies doing national security work during the Reagan administration, these might not be as accountable as civil servants. given that, and given the stuff in S.3930.PCS about not being able to challenge sources of classified intelligence, might not third parties like this get swept up simply because a contractor is reducing their costs and taking shortcuts for which there is little accountability?
>"the US isn't best of friends with Syria, but intelligence from Syrian interrogators is still fed into US terrorist watchlists"
No wonder the watch lists are so utterly useless. This has probably gifted Syria or any other country full of torturers the ability to make the US TSA act in a heavy handed, unreasonable, inaccurate way.
Those names the victims cry out when they are tortured just have to be selected from common arabic and muslim names in a US telephone directory. The TSA watch lists will do the rest with the huge number of false positives and undeserved bans on flying.
It should not come as a surprise to anyone who has ever dealt with bureaucrats that personal information can be screwed up beyond recogonition.
If we expect government agents to act on the basis of bureaucratic evidence, we must expect this type of thing to happen ALL THE TIME.
I am reminded of one night when I was questioned by police outside of the Australian Embassy in DC. Bored in my dorm room, I went for a walk, saw the embassy, and decided to look at the easel in their lobby to see if there were tours or such. It was about 9 pm, and I knew that there were no tours at that time of night, but thought there might be something the next day. Almost immediately on approaching the door, I was asked by DC police to step away into the parking lot (possibly they didn't have jurisdiction on the steps), where, after looking at my NC drivers license and talking to the FBI, I was informed that my drivers license had been suspended and that my birthday as printed on my license was wrong. I told the officer that he was wrong and that he would want to recheck his information. It was about then that a security guard at the embassy asked the DC police what they were doing and offered his view that based on their surveillence video I hadn't been doing anything wrong.
Eventually I was let go (and ironically told that I shouldn't be out in DC at night as it was dangerous).
But just think of your own lives. How many times has a bureaucrat in the DMV or the post office or God forbid the IRS explained to you that their records indicated something that was blatantly false. Just imagine if instead of merely having to waste time trying to get things set straight that you had been hauled to prison without trial.
It is difficult for me to believe that anyone can imagine themselves safe in a society where freedom is a matter of bureaucratic freedom.
As a Canadian who's been following this for a while...
Maher Arar was born in Syria, moved to Canada when he was 17, and still held dual citizenship in Canada and Syria; he was, however, traveling under his Canadian passport at the time.
At one point during his original detainment, the U.S. authorities asked the RCMP if Maher Arar would be charged and detained if he were sent back to Canada. The RCMP replied 'no', and it wasn't long after that he was deported to Syria. It was, however, two days before the U.S. officials bothered to inform their Canadian counterparts of this.
From my standpoint, one of the more disturbing parts of this is the way the RCMP later went to significant lengths to either cover up or justify their own part in this. Somebody didn't want to be blamed, and ended up digging themselves in deeper once that came to light.
Arar also launched a lawsuit against the U.S. officials; it was dismissed in February by a federal judge, citing national security issues. And the U.S. State Department refused to co-operate with the inquiry.
The CBC, naturally, has been following this from the beginning: http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/arar/
"But just think of your own lives. How many times has a bureaucrat in the DMV or the post office or God forbid the IRS explained to you that their records indicated something that was blatantly false. Just imagine if instead of merely having to waste time trying to get things set straight that you had been hauled to prison without trial."
yeah, and if government begins/has been using information from credit agencies, that makes it all the worse. my address from 10 years ago is listed incorrectly on my credit report. i have challenged it, seeking to correct it. the credit agency's response is that they don't change addresses like that as a "matter of policy".
As a Canadian I find it interesting that the majority of the comments seem to only blame the FBI and DHS, but I don't think I noticed one comment saying the RCMP screwed up. Here in Canada all I hear is how the RCMP were incompetent and people are calling for the RCMP commissioner to resign. The FBI and DHS acted on the information they had been given by the RCMP who failed miserably at this investigation. It should have been CSIS who was doing the investigation. CSIS is the intelligence branch of the Canadian government and they are the ones trained to perform intelligence gathering and analysis. The RCMP are not. CSIS has been overloaded since 9/11 (because of typical Canadian underfunding) and handed the case off to the RCMP who buggered it up. CSIS has oversight for this type of investigation, the RCMP does not. And that is where it all went wrong.
"I'm not sure I understand this. He was a *Canadian* citizen, but he was shipped to *Syria* - a country that the USofA is not exactly on the most friendly of terms with? One of the "axis of evil" state sponsors of terrorism?"
Mr. Arar was born in Syria and became a Canadian citizen. He was detained in NY by US authorities. We now know the RCMP provided information that was both wrong and provided outside of established procedures. That information led US law enforcement to conclude that Arar was a terrorist, or at least to suspect he was.
Rather than deport him to Canada, who was willing to take him, they chose to deport him to Syria, where both the US and Canadian officials had every reason to believe he would be tortured. (And, presumably, the "intelligence" gained as a result would be shared with the US.)
While in Syria, Mr. Arar was kept in a hole and repeatedly beaten with objects that included chains and cables. He was held for a year before the Canadian government was able to get him out.
The US argued that they had every right to deport him to Syria although he was a Canadian citizen. Gonzales, the USAG, was on tv the other day arguing that Mr. Arar was deported under US law, and that the US had done nothing wrong.
The RCMP has apologized formally and publicly for their role in the "incident." They have not indicated publicly what they intend to do to ensure something like that doesn't happen again --- or indeed that it hasn't happened since and the public simply doesn't know about it.
The government of Canada has yet to apologize. Probably, they will, but as part of some sort of settlement. Mr. Arar is trying to get compensation through the courts. Apologies are different in Canada than in the US; they take on a larger meaning. They are not taken --- or given --- lightly. So it's a big deal for the government to apologize for anything, and they take a long time to get ready.
Bottom line. The guy was innocent. He was on vacation in Tunisia and on his way home he had to change planes in NY. He was detained, he was deported to Syria, and he was tortured. Because? He is a muslim, he has a funny name, and the Canadian national police served their American masters by providing "information" the was used to send this guy off to a year of hell.
I think that's enough to be afraid of, even for people who haven't done anything wrong.
This guy is not a US citizen, he wasn't being charged for an American crime, and he didn't ask for sanctuary. A layover in the US doesn't automatically give him sanctuary, either.
Based on evidence given by Canada (faulty or not), the US handed over a Syrian suspect to Syria, which apparently had jurisdiction. It's not the job of the US, at that point, to determine his guilt or innocence.
Your stance on torture has no bearing on this case - it's irrelevant.
"Bottom line. The guy was innocent. He was on vacation in Tunisia and on his way home he had to change planes in NY. He was detained, he was deported to Syria, and he was tortured. Because? He is a muslim, he has a funny name, and the Canadian national police served their American masters by providing "information" the was used to send this guy off to a year of hell."
the other lesson for Canada is that even when they act as "good guys" to and for the United States, their wishes regarding the treatment of one of their own citizens are disregarded, simply just because the United States can do it.
i think there's been a lot of cozying up to the U.S. government on Canada's part over the years, including the agreement to return evaders of a Vietnam-like draft, which have little benefit to Canada but are rules the States simply insist upon.
it also suggests to governments everywhere: (1) if this can happen with Canada, one of the USA's closest friends as a country, what are YOU giving up by cooperating in the war on terror? (2) the ability to return to Syria and have the guy tortured suggests what the USA says on the nightly news isn't representative of its true relationship with its "enemies" (3) absolute power corrupts, e.g., Musharraf's claim that Pakistan was threatened into cooperating shortly after 2001-09-11. in order words, BEWARE of being a friend as well as BEWARE of being an enemy of the USA.
"It's not the job of the US, at that point, to determine his guilt or innocence.
Your stance on torture has no bearing on this case - it's irrelevant."
yes it does, because the USA did not have to comply with the Syrian request. they made a choice. they could have complied with a Canadian request. like i said, Canada's SUPPOSED TO BE A FRIEND. Syria is on the "enemies list".
the USA was being vindictive, no due process about it.
Did I misread something, or is it bascially this: The RCMP didn't like Mr. Arar, added his name/information to documents passed to the U.S. legal authorities. When he was then detained they let it be known that they'd rather deport him to Syria, and he was.
In summary, he was deported to Syria because the RCMP didn't like him and couldn't legally do anything about it.
We are all terrorists now. We are all suspects. We are all criminals.
Better get used to it.
"I think another point to be made here is that the definition and execution of torture here in the United States is probably a far cry from what it would be considered in Syria."
Dream on. There are numerous cases of detainees being brutalized to death.
Think about that. Tortured to death. By American interrogators acting on your behalf and mine. And now it's legal.
*hangs head in shame*
Don't forget the White House's interpretation of "torture." IIRC, Attorney General Gonzales once drafted a legal opinion that the yardstick for torture is "pain equivalent to organ failure."
That still leaves the CIA and other parties plenty of wiggle room, up to chopping off fingernails or whole hands, depending on their creative interpretation of "organ."
He was a Canadian citizen, he must therefore have been travelling on a Canadian passport. Hownell can he be deported to anywhere other than Canada?
Some television commentator recently claimed that the strong popularity of the series "24" was a "referendum" indicating that U.S. citizens are in favor of torture where it's necessary to extract information. In fact, I recall at least two instances where Jack Bauer tortured an innocent person. The lesson to take away from this is not that Americans want torture to be legal; it's quite the opposite: Americans would expect that, in the face of imminent threat to millions, and in the certainty that a suspect has crucial knowledge, the agent would use the means he or she deems necessary and appropriate regardless of whether it might lead to prosecution. That's why people forgive Jack Bauer when he tortures an innocent or murders in cold blood (which he has also done)--they have no doubt that he is willing to sacrifice his life or freedom to save the world. And "24" is, after all, entertainment, not a referendum.
Making torture illegal is a security measure--it doesn't prevent torture from ever being used; it merely assures that it is used only when the agent is so confident of its efficacy and in such desperate need that he or she is willing to risk imprisonment for the greater good.
Just watched the movie Brazil by Terry Guilliam again last night. An innocent man is arrested and tortured to death because a fly falls into a printer causing one letter to be mistyped. I used to think its portrayal of an overgrown, clumsy, bumbling bureaucracy devoted to state security was wildly funny. Now? Not so much. Disturbingly prescient.
there's a lot that's scary about this in the context of S.3930.PCS, the tribunals bill which passed the Senate yesterday, is that some Supreme Court specialists are saying the Court won't rule on cases appealed to them on this measure. the rationale is that while the Court will take on the executive branch when Congress is defending it, historically they have essentially never taken on Congress, because of language in the Constitution which makes the judiciary a creature subject to congressional review.
others, of course, feel that the abrogation of time-honored judicial principles, like habeas corpus, like discovery, is so severe, the Court will have no choice but to review and overturn.
just imagine, however, that some future legislation deleted just one word from the bill's language: the word "alien" in the definition of "alien unlawful combatant". if that were done, a president could imprison and torture American citizens simply by declaring their actions as "hostile to the United States". i'm not suggesting (even) BushCo would do that. but legislation has to be considered for its long term consequences as well as needs of the now. this, if upheld by SCOTUS, brings the United States as close to someday having a Pinochet-like president that it ever has.
"The lesson to take away from this is not that Americans want torture to be legal; it's quite the opposite: Americans would expect that, in the face of imminent threat to millions, and in the certainty that a suspect has crucial knowledge, the agent would use the means he or she deems necessary and appropriate regardless of whether it might lead to prosecution."
that kind of stuff is SUCH a joke!
first, military and intelligence people familiar with the business will tell you torture is an incredibly ineffective means of obtaining reliable information. people say all kinds of things when under duress. the North Koreans and the Cambodians and WWII Japanese tortured to obtain "confessions", not actionable information.
second, the scenario of the "ticking time bomb" is highly artificial and lacking in realism except to the extent it makes good video drama. it appeals to the public's notion of how good police work is done: strong, dramatic, authoritarian. in fact, the best police work is methodical, boring, systematic, long term. but that would never sell soap, don't ya know.
third, Dershowitz has considered legal implications of "ticking time bombs" and torture, even if torture were an effective means. there are complications, most of which logically require a court to supervise the torture.
ekzept> that kind of stuff is SUCH a joke!
Uh, that's why I pointed out that "24" is entertainment. I never said it's realistic.
The main issue here isn't whether torture is effective (I'm well aware it isn't in the general case). It's whether we can conclude, from the popularity of a television series where it is portrayed, that Americans are in favor of it.
I'm also saying that even in the highly unrealistic scenario of the 'ticking time bomb', the illegality of torture assures that no one would employ it without being absolutely certain that it is the only means available, and willing to pay a penalty for it anyway. Legalizing torture is, to me, clearly stepping over the line into a police state.
bob sez: "He was a Canadian citizen, he must therefore have been travelling on a Canadian passport. Hownell can he be deported to anywhere other than Canada?"
Maher Arar was not deported. He was a victim of "extraordinary rendition". He was tossed into a private CIA aircraft and flown to Jordan without benefit of any legal proceeding. He had no connection whatsoever with Jordan. In Jordan he was severely beaten before being driven by car to the Syrian border and handed over to the Palestine Branch of Syrian military intelligence for "interrogation".
The three branch system is a complete joke, since it is still part and parcel of the same apparatus that obtains its funds through illegitimate means.
Why should judicial oversight enforce habeas corpus? After all it is within its means not to do so.
The problem with our system is that our judicial system violates a very fundamental juridical principle: not being a judge in your own trial.
Leaving important decisions up to a compulsory monopoly court system, is bound to produce the results you so bitterly complain about, especially when it has the power to judge its own case.
'I think its high time for a world-wide cultural boycott of the United States.'
You mean stoppping trade between peaceful citizens? or their rulers?
Do you even distinguish between the producing class and the parasitical class?
ANTIBOZO, i did not say nor did i mean to imply you were a joke or your opinion was a joke. i meant to say the very idea of using torture effectively even in an artificial "ticking time bomb" situation is a joke.
i am sorry if it came across any other way.
"CSIS is the intelligence branch of the Canadian government and they are the ones trained to perform intelligence gathering and analysis. The RCMP are not."
CSIS was formed in 1984 when the RCMP's Security Service was disbanded after one too many scandals. So who made up 90% of the initial staff of CSIS? Ex-RCMP Security Service members (this problem was publicly acknowledged about 10 years later in a report on another CSIS scandal).
"The RCMP didn't like Mr. Arar, added his name/information to documents passed to the U.S. legal authorities. When he was then detained they let it be known that they'd rather deport him to Syria, and he was."
Not quite. Arar was added to an internal list of names because he was observed having a conversation with someone who was under surveillance at the time. Followup investigation of Arar turned up nothing, but he was not removed from that list, and when the RCMP turned over those lists (in contravention of regulations), Arar's name was now on the U.S. terrorist watchlist.
When the U.S. asked the RCMP if they would arrest Arar if he was deported to Canada, the RCMP looked at his name, looked at why he was on the list, and said "No, we've got nothing on him." So the U.S. rendered him to Syria (under the technicality of his Syrian citizenship) so that someone on their watchlist would be interrogated rather than released. Whether the RCMP asked for, knew, or were silently complicit in his deportation to Syria hasn't been demonstrated.
The RCMP's/CSIS's failures in this case were putting and keeping his name on the list and turning that list over to the U.S.; the U.S. failures in this case were rendering him to Syria for torture simply because he was suspicious looking and his name was on a list.
It's a truly Kafka-esque story.
there's a culpability citizens of the United States share with respect to these matters beyond the narrow support for a particular standing President and Congress. this culpability comes from our unwillingness to make our infrastructure less vulnerable to terrorist exploitation because of cost, economic reasons, or ideological reasons. such measures include protections and inspections of air cargo, as commercially intrusive as that might be, and active federal measures to force decentralization of clusters of national resources important to U.S. economic continuity, such as oil and gas refineries and the like.
while third party countries may have resorted to torture in our name during the Cold War, AFAIK we never did. and surely the Cold War was a vastly more dangerous conflict than the present. thus, it is really interesting that people in power are so hot on using it now.
Somehow I think everyone is missing the point of torture. Torture, in addition to its obvious moral/legal problems, is simply not an effective way to get accurate intelligence. It's morally wrong, illegal, AND it doesn't work.
So why does ANYONE even bother to do it? Simple: torture is an incredibly effective method of obtaining FALSE intelligence. If your goal is to find a source that will tell you the tale you want to hear, so you can justify doing what you want to do, then torture is EXTREMELY EFFECTIVE.
Not so long ago, the Soviets used torture to elicit false confessions. Were they without value because they were false? Not at all--they used these false confessions to justify their actions, and expand their pogroms.
Everyone seems to be treating the Maher Arar as if it were a failure in the War on Terrorism. I don't believe that has been established at all. As far as I can tell, that's been the plan all along. Who knows what actions our government has taken based on his torture-derived testimony? Perhaps they have arrested and tortured more people. But, if that was the goal all along, then one can only consider his case a success for the administration. The only failure was in failing to adequately suppress the truth.
Apparently Arar was flagged by the RCMP for having a casual conversation with a suspect under surveillance. They talked about where to get cheap inkjet cartridges, apparently the guilt by association was enough to flag him as a suspect as well.
If I was captured and tortured, I'd give up the names of the people "behind my organisation":
Would that be enough to get _them_ added to a 'watch list'?
theprez98: It seems clear to me that the majority of Americans either directly support torture, or don't care one way or another. Otherwise there would have been strong reactions to this, like people taking to the streets and that sort of thing. Now all I see is a few news articles and blogs that in the end don't make a difference.
All I can think of is examples from Hitler's Germany, South Africa during apartheid, and so forth.
How did the saying go? When good people do nothing, evil prevails?
This is a shame for the Syrian, American and Canadian governments.
They're all deeply complicit.
The Syrians ordered the torture. The Americans knew Arar would be tortured in Syria, so they sent him there rather than back to Canada.
And Canada? The messed up sending erroneous data. They did not contextualize it. The head of the RCMP did not correct the record, or, as far as is known, try and get him out of Syria. When media reports were circulating that claimed the Canadian government was 100% sure Arar was involved in terrorist activities, they did nothing.
Today's government wanted him to rot in a Syrian jail. The minister that now refuses to apologize claimed loudly we shouldn't question US actions, that we needed to do these things to fight terrorism.
The whole situation is frightening and infuriating. Who are these dimwits that think we're safer by torturing people? Turns out it's almost all of our so-called leaders.
@Erik V. Olson
Being afraid isn't the same as being a coward. I agree that fear is a major factor in the current state of affairs, but attacking the basic character of the fearful does little to improve that situation. Would you say that the people dying in the WTC were cowards, because I'm sure many of them were afraid.
Just because you thing someones fear is irrational, doesn't make them a coward, it makes them not rational enough, assuming you are correct in the first place.
This is also a good example of how torture elicits false confessions (pages 54-56 in the Report of the Events), thereby adding faulty data points to the investigation's dataset.
Another sad fact in the report illustrates a nice example of the INS' doublethink; in US removal order for Arar, it's stated that the INS Regional Commisioner who signed the removal order "was satisfied that Mr. Arar would not be tortured, apparently because of an assurance received from Syrian authorities." (Page 156)
/* I'm not sure I understand this. He was a *Canadian* citizen, but he was shipped to *Syria* - a country that the USofA is not exactly on the most friendly of terms with? One of the "axis of evil" state sponsors of terrorism?
Quick nit: the Axis of Evil (TM) is Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. It should include Syria and a few others, but it doesn't.
But the shipping to Syria is an important detail. The torture wasn't done by US employees. In fact, under an executive order signed by Nixon, the US can't say "hey, since you can torture, and we can't, could you please torture this guy?" The US *can* and does say "we're deporting this guy to you, even though we know you'll likely roture him." But that has nothing to do with the Patriot Act, nothing to do with the detainee bill that Bush is signing today, and nothing to do with warrantless wiretaps, and very little to do with habeus corpus.
It has a lot to do with the culture in the Department of Homeland Security, and a lot to do with immigration law.
As long as people here in the US have money in their pockets they are fat, dumb and happy. They pay attention to what's going on around them for a few minutes and then go back to their Starbucks. This country is following way too closely the paths of the Roman Empire and Hitler's Empire. If it's not right in their back yard they don't care. Welcome to the land of the sheep.
@Erik V. Olson
The ones in power are the cowards and bullies, the ones who need the guns to force their will.
[cynical] Fortunately, the new law actually fixes the problem with faulty data, because every detainee will be found guilty after his interrogation. And the found evidence, obtained by coercion, can now be used by a military commission. [/cynical]
"This country is following way too closely the paths of the Roman Empire and Hitler's Empire. If it's not right in their back yard they don't care. Welcome to the land of the sheep."
i think Athens during the Peloponnesian War is even a closer parallel.
" just imagine, however, that some future legislation deleted just one word from the bill's language: the word "alien" in the definition of "alien unlawful combatant". if that were done, a president could imprison and torture American citizens simply by declaring their actions as "hostile to the United States". i'm not suggesting (even) BushCo would do that. but legislation has to be considered for its long term consequences as well as needs of the now. this, if upheld by SCOTUS, brings the United States as close to someday having a Pinochet-like president that it ever has."
Ever heard of zealot from back in the 1950's named Senator Joeseph McCarthy?
Anonymous: actually the McCarthy thing is interesting, because one way a naturalized citizen can get backed into this legal fanblade is by having their citizenship revoked. for a naturalized citizen that's possible by an administrative ruling that there was something amiss regarding their citizenship filings. for a born-here citizen, they need to be convicted of something, like treason or, for instance, refusing to testify before Congress regarding their subversive activities.
there is some disagreement about it among lawyers, since the provisions are so new, but there's a tribunal stipulated in the Military Commissions Act which may determine someone is an "unlawful enemy combatant" whether or not they are a citizen, to wit, "a person who, before, on, or after the date of the enactment of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, has been determined to be an unlawful enemy combatant by a Combatant Status Review Tribunal or another competent tribunal established under the authority of the President or the Secretary of Defense."
see more at
and at my blog, at
Wrong records can happen and will happen again. We may proofe in every single case what went wrong - afterwards.
But we can't guarantee errors not to happen.
Beside torture being not effective, this is a reason to ban torture at all.
And torture is banned by the UN civil rights.
But US citizens aren't bound to the civil rights any more.
@theprez98: "I think its a bit presumptious to assume that there is a large segment of the population out there that "support the U.S.'s right to...torture people..." under any circumstances."
@steve: "Only 51% of 35% of the population even voted for them."
That means, only 49% of 35% of the population voted against torture while in power on election day.
@daniel: This is a shame for the Syrian, American and Canadian governments.
That's not only a shame for the canadian government.
The European court decided, that passenger data, send to DHS in the last years, is without legal basis.
A spokesman of the german government declared, the passengers should accept the datatransfer towards the air carriers (instead of prohibiting the datatransfer).
This way, my government doesn't protect me from torture.
Can I refuse a flight for buisiness reasons against my company, because I fear torture?
The only possibility to insist of on human rights is, to refuse the data for all passengers.
The USA can go without several individual visitors, but can it abdicate on all german or EU passengers?
The current and former german government, elected in a democratic way don't do enough to stand up for civil rights, which, ironically, where brought to us 1945 not only, but mostly by american troops, which defeated the torturing Nazi regime.
And - the list of irony isn't finished: The only party which claimed massive interest in civil rights is the follow-up of the formerly party SED from the GDR, which was part of the Eastern Bloc.
This party when in power was known for:
- putting people into prison without lawsuit
- lawsuit without attorny
and so on.
Back in these times of the Eastern Bloc, civil rights where a major issue to every western democratic nation.
Today we learn: It was just another case of propaganda.
We don't stand up for civil rights.
It's getting cold in europe.
The commentator who made the remark about '24' is Laura Ingraham.
First of all, it should be noted that President Charles Logan was complicit with terrorists throughout the last 'day' of the series, and was ultimately arrested for his perfidy. I could argue that the popularity of the series has as much to do with seeing a morally bankrupt official being brought to justice has far more to do with this than Jack Bauer simply chasing terrorists.
Additionally, since we're predicating the real world on the fictional events of '24,' it should also be noted that Jack Bauer was kidnapped by agents of a foreign power, beaten mercilessly (I wonder if that qualifies as 'severe' pain, or 'strong' pain, or even 'non-transitory' pain).
"China has a long memory, Mr. Bauer. Did you think we would forget?"
We may also wish to consider that even the most heinous of criminals have the right to habeas corpus, protection against unreasonable search and seizure, and the right to a speedy AND fair trial. Even Timothy McVeigh. Even Ted Kazscynski. Even Eric Rudolph.
Have they been brought to justice? Yes, they have.
How is it that some anonymous clown plucked off a battlefield in Afghanistan nearly five years ago is such a grave and terrible threat that bringing him to justice requires us to diminish his protection under our laws?
And does insisting that these 'unlawful enemy combatants' are so dangerous as to merit a reduction in those rights ... serve only to sanctify their cause and portray America as being afraid?
It's also interesting to note that Arar explicitly asked the US authorities to deport him to Canada, insisting that if they shipped him to Syria he would be tortured.
He was a citizen of both countries, and the US deported him to the one they knew would torture him, ignoring the pleas of the (innocent) detainee.
As a Canadian, let me ay the Mounties that provided the false information ought to be found and charged. But they won't be - our current Conservative government will consider the RCMP Commissioner's apology enough.
So Yes the RCMP is to blame some what. But the real issue here is that a Canadian Citizen (no matter where he was born - he was a citizen of Canada longer than he was a Citizen of Syria at th time of his being "deported") was deported to a third country, to be tortured by proxy by the US intelligence community.
Never mind that torture doesn't work at gettting accurate information.
Never mnd that it is against every human rights code ever passed and ratified by the US and the world.
This is about the illegal kidnapping and detention of a foriegn citizen at the behest of the US.
When I was a kid, countries that did this kind of thing were called, by other US Presidents, "the Evil Empire".
And now not only does the US do it, they have legalized it.
Welcome to the new US - land of authority, home of the scared.
Fascism is alive and well.
It is very easy to get caught up in self-righteous indignation at the possibility that an innocent man may have been detained falsely. You can imagine this happening to your self and how you would re-act and demand that governments, who are faceless people, with the obligation to protect you and your loved ones against a brutal death. It is easy, when you are not in any danger, to assign evil to people who do not act as you would prefer in a perfect world. What I don't see in any of these blogs is any condemnation of the acts or people who have done the truly evil things to innocent people, who were like your selves, and were killed. It is better to act before and apoligize than not act and have YOUR family murdered. the blame goes to one who commit this actions, not to the ones who act in your defense
Roger, you miss the point. What evil things others do is not the issue here; the fact that there was no reason whatsoever to believe Arar was linked to terrorism is. And that solely on the basis of a chance conversation with a person of interest to the police, he was sent another country and tortured for a year before finally being allowed to return to his family. A capital-I, 100% innocent man. As a Canadian, I am ashamed of the conduct of my representatives, and I think the American regime is equally culpable, though for different reasons.
this is not a perfect world and instances like this will always happen. People go to jail every year for mistaken crimes. I feel sorry for his mistaken identity for being identified as a terrorist, but your representatives are charged with your safety. I understand that it ended up c.y.a. action. If we were not under seige from these terrorists there would not have been any reason for this to have happened. He could just as easily have been a terrorist that was wanted by authorities. It is a shame that we now have to have this happen, but the blame again is not on Canada, or the U.S. but on these evil people that put us in the position to have to deal with them the way that we do. To allow guilt for this, may at someother time make us less vigilant. As the home-grown terrorists who had been plotting the prime-minister's demise, or the London bombing show, you cannot be too vigilant
Was your last post just a provocation or do you really believe that?
"... the blame again is not on Canada, or the U.S. but on these evil people that put us in the position to have to deal with them the way that we do."
We have lots of choices in the way we respond to terrorism. Giving up our civil liberties and generally over-reacting are poor choices. We are also responsible for our choices which means we should take some blame when we get it wrong.
You mentioned the London bombing so I'm guessing you are British; the UK's best defence against terrorism is good intelligence and better border controls. In this case, rubbish data was used to condemn a man to torture for a year.
"To allow guilt for this, may at someother time make us less vigilant."
What the ****? Every good citizen should hold their government accountable for gross errors like this. By all means let us be vigilant but don't use that as an excuse for unacceptable mistakes.
“Man kann die Menschen jederzeit dazu bringen, das zu tun, was ihre Führer wollen. Das ist leicht. Alles, was man dazu tun muss, ist, ihnen sagen, sie würden angegriffen, und dann muss man die Friedensmacher als Leute hinstellen, denen es an Patriotismus fehlt und die ihr Vaterland in Gefahr bringen. So funktioniert das doch in allen Ländern��?
For those who can't read German, the quote from @Dima came from Herman Goering after WWII. Here is some context. @Dima's quoted text is Goerings last response below.
Gustave Gilbert, a German-speaking intelligence officer and psychologist who was granted free access by the Allies to all the prisoners held in the Nuremberg jail during the period of the Nuremberg Trails, kept a journal of his observations of the proceedings and his conversations with the prisoners, which he later published in the book Nuremberg Diary. Gilbert recorded Goering's (Nazi Reichsmarshall and Luftwaffe-Chief) observations that the common people can always be manipulated into supporting and fighting wars by their political leaders:
Gilbert: "We got around to the subject of war again and I said that, contrary to his attitude, I did not think that the common people are very thankful for leaders who bring them war and destruction."
Goering: "Why, of course, the people don't want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship."
Gilbert: "There is one difference. In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars."
Goering: "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."
Yes, my representatives are charged with my safety. They were also charged with Mr Arar's safety -- he is a Canadian citizen. They failed in that duty in the most egregious possible way. And he was not jailed for a mistaken crime. He was taken from his home and family and tortured for a year on the basis of _no evidence at all_. On unadulterated bullshit. Tortured. For a year.
He could not just as easily have been a terrorist. There was no reason whatsoever for anyone to think that. If due process had been followed, as our seemingly all too shaky tradition of liberal democracy demands, he would have been released within hours. Instead, panic and paranoia condemned a manifestly innocent man (and his family) to a year of hell. You may find this comforting, but I find it shameful and frightening.
I thought, why not force a passenger who flies to/through the USA to give the USG the ability to peak at their personal data (wrt what they eat and what not) but that would inform the passenger what exactly is reviewed.
Intelligence officer and psychologist, torture. Reminds me of MKULTRA, but I have no proof whatsoever. If you need information, why not use sodium thiopental (sodium pentothal)? It just doesn't seem logic to torture someone to get information. However, there are other 'benefits' for torture...
FYI: it is also possible in some EU countries (UK and NL afaik, maybe more) to be put in prison without a trial, without knowing what the charges are. In NL this is possible for 2 years. Although the Justice Department claimed this was to prevent terrorism, it counts for every Dutch civilian. 24/7 light, camera observation, is also possible if you are in prison. This happened to the suspect (who has been found guilty) who murdered a Dutch politician. Also, in both NL and UK, carrying an ID (passport or European identity card) is mandatory. The US is working on this too IIRC, so as you can see, we're once again learning from each other, copying each other, and _together_ moving toward a "new world order". Don't fool yourself thinking this is only the US behaving like a facist country. If you believe that though, and live in EU, you're still not safe from the US as (various) European governments happily give any civilian to the USA for no reason whatsoever. There's documented proof of that.
You can flee to another country, where it is safe(r) from now, but think of the following:
"Als die Nazis die Kommunisten holten,
habe ich geschwiegen;
ich war ja kein Kommunist.
Als sie die Sozialdemokraten einsperrten,
habe ich geschwiegen;
ich war ja kein Sozialdemokrat.
Als sie die Gewerkschafter holten,
habe ich nicht protestiert;
ich war ja kein Gewerkschafter.
Als sie mich holten,
gab es keinen mehr, der protestieren konnte"
--Pastor Martin Niemöller
(translation and info at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_they_came... )
Here is the text from the Military and Commisions Act of 2006 (S.3960). It is part (ii) that is disturbing as it applies to anyone:
`(1) UNLAWFUL ENEMY COMBATANT- (A) The term `unlawful enemy combatant' means--
`(i) a person who has engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States or its co-belligerents who is not a lawful enemy combatant (including a person who is part of the Taliban, al Qaeda, or associated forces); or
`(ii) a person who, before, on, or after the date of the enactment of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, has been determined to be an unlawful enemy combatant by a Combatant Status Review Tribunal or another competent tribunal established under the authority of the President or the Secretary of Defense.
@J.: "in both NL and UK, carrying an ID (passport or European identity card) is mandatory"
I don't know about the Netherlands, but here in the UK it is definitely not mandatory to carry ID.
The government is working on introducing national ID cards, but as yet they're still under development. And (so far) it hasn't been proposed that you'd have to carry them even when they are brought in -- you'd just need to show it when doing things like opening a bank account, getting [free] medical treatment, etc.
One minor lesson might be to prohibit (or at least not personally hold) multiple citizenship. If his *only* passport were Canadian, he would have been sent to Canada rather than Syria.
I am a US citizen and personally dislike the notion that someone can hold US *and* other citizenship simultaneously. At least one Lebanese militia leader (Druze, I think; not certain) that sanctioned highjacking a US airliner and the murder of a US Navy diver in the 1970s *was* an American citizen whose family lived in Michgan and supported themselves building GM cars. He went over there to stir the pot while leaving the family safe in the US. He would probably have hidden behind that US passport had things gone badly for him. Numerous others of every stripe in that region hold US citizenship as well as Lebanese, Israeli, Syrian, Jordanian, Egyptian...
and when the crap hits the fan, they call for the Marines to come rescue them.
We should change the law - the Constitution, if necessary - to prohibit multiple citizenship.
In the specific case at hand, if you wouldn't want to be interrogated by country-A, then renounce citizenship in country-A when you take up Canadian - or other - citizenship...
Roger, may the next "mistake" happen to you.
--"That means, only 49% of 35% of the population voted against torture while in power on election day."
Assuming you trust the poll results, which, quite frankly, would be silly. The real (possibly final real) test for this country will be what happens over the next two and a half years with our voting system. If we keep the current unauditable, unverifiable, untrustable paperless EVMs, we're probably done for good.
Real question then becomes, where the heck can you go?
The big problem here is not the faulty data, nor is it the inappropriate sharing of that data by the RCMP. The problem is that the US government sent someone (and I don't care whether he was guilty or not) off to be tortured. What the RCMP did, while still wrong and deserving of punishment, pales into insignificance compared to that.
Someone said earlier that it was time for a "cultural boycott of the united states". I disagree. It is, however, time for sensible people who have a choice to avoid the United States as if it had the plague. So by all means do business with the US, buy US products, listen to US bands and read US books - but don't go there for any reason. There are better places to go for your holidays. There are better places to change planes.
Too many people are choosing the easy way instead of the right way. It is too bad that people like Roger are using the terrorist threat to rationalize and justify the easy way.
(I'd just like to point out that the person posting above as "roger" is not me, "Roger", who has been posting here semi-regularly since 2004.)
Am I the only person who notes (with shock and awe) that the Canadian government actually creates web sites with information about events they'd almost certainly like swept under the rug?
It's almost like they felt they have an obligation to inform the general public or something. How un-american.
Re: ``Without getting into a huge debate about the definition of torture''
Not just torture; terrorism (Ashcroft wanted to define computer tresspass as terrorism), detainee, enemy combatant, interrogation, questioning, material witness, conspiracy, national security, war, national security letters, executive privilege. Reminds me of Alice in Wonderland:
``Humpty Dumpty: When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less.
Alice: The question is, whether you can make words mean so many different things.
Humpty Dumpty: The question is: which is to be master - that's all.''
You see, a strong leader like Bush doesn't just USE his words... he DOMINATES them, scaring them into meaning what he wants through sheer force of will.
``We didn't have a plan to deal with Osama bin Laden ... we had a list of actionable items.'' -- Condoleeza Rice, Equivocator General
Anyone remember the reference to a ``culture of life'' -- from a state governor who signed over 100 death warrants?
I wonder if the people who oppose physician-assisted suicide and support the death penalty realize the inherent contradiction. I guess you have to kill someone in order to die a painless death. Or maybe it's one of those catch-22 situations where you have to want to live in order to be executed, and vice versa.
Re: ``Would you say that the people dying in the WTC were cowards, because I'm sure many of them were afraid.''
I bet most were too busy to be afraid. The transcripts of the flight that crashed after passengers rushed the cockpit shows that most of the callers accepted their death as a forgone conclusion. Many seemed more concerned for the feelings of their loved ones than their own fate, reassuring them that "it will be quick". The recordings of the calls I heard were very calm, so much so that conspiracy theorists doubt their authenticity. But I have also felt incongruous calmness in near-death situations where I had little or no control. If you live, the nausea, self-reflection, and nightmares come later, for reasons that are obvious to anyone with a superficial understanding of natural selection.
I can't find the link now, but I found the transcripts somewhere linked to by:
It makes me proud to know that they stopped more bloodshed at the cost of their own lives, and that they accepted their self-sacrifice with calmness and dignity. They did not actively seek out martyrdom, they never sought to do harm to perceived opponents (much less innocent third parties); but they adapted to the circumstances forced upon them, saved lives, and dealt with the situation admirably. I can only hope that I would have the courage to do the same, if faced with a similar decision.
I wish our leaders had the same selfless qualities; it befits the only global superpower to be benevolent, even-handed, plain-dealing, and consistently moral. Ostensibly the President is the "leader of the free world", which suggests that he should have the interests of mankind, not just corporate America, foremost in his mind. Egotism, intolerance of any criticism or disagreement, callous disregard for the opinion of others, and inability to admit to a mistake, in the face of self-obvious and unmitigated evidence to the contrary, is not becoming of a world leader. Anyone in that role who doesn't spend a few sleepless nights questioning the correctness of his decisions and pondering the gravity of the post is unfit for the duty.
it is easy to to sit and imagine a perfect world by which people can sit and work out their diffences. what we have are people who want to kill you, just for being you. the only thing that is keeping them from killing you is that they, at this moment lack the means. Pacifists, from a Dictators or tyrants point of view are easy. If they do nothing they are pawns, if they protest you kill them, end of problem. They go to their deaths like sheep to slaughter. The reason why you all feel this way is that you don't feel any danger, there is no immediate threat from these wackos for you or your families. the only threat you face is a threat against your beliefs that the govenments of Canada or the U.S. are the bad guys. Pacifism never saved one person from being murdered by Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao Tse tung or any other tyrant. The Jews learned the hard way that surrendering to evil gets you death. But when evil people kill people by the thousands I never hear you protest. Only if the U.S. or the west are involved. So that tells me you are not anti-war just anti-west. Again I am sorry that that man was tortured, but he wasn't tortured by either the U.S. or Canada and have not seen any blog condeming Syria
The puzzling thing about the Arar case. and the subsequent multimillion dollar payout; is that Arar, and only Arar can substantiate the Alleged torture. As Jean Chretien once said so eloquently, Da Proof is in Da Proof, and Wit Out Da Proof, dere is no Proof. Where is the black and white proof Arar was tortured, other than what he himself has told us?
Schneier.com is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of BT.