When the Rule of Law is shattered, we’re all victims

Thrown to the Wolves
Published Friday, February 25, in the NYT; link (note: the link goes to the story as reproduced at CommonDreams. org, and not the original NYT source)
by Bob Herbert
In the fall of 2002 Mr. Arar, a Canadian citizen, suddenly found himself caught up in the cruel mockery of justice that the Bush administration has substituted for the rule of law in the post-Sept. 11 world. While attempting to change planes at Kennedy Airport on his way home to Canada from a family vacation in Tunisia, he was seized by American authorities, interrogated and thrown into jail. He was not charged with anything, and he never would be charged with anything, but his life would be ruined.
Mr. Arar was surreptitiously flown out of the United States to Jordan and then driven to Syria, where he was kept like a nocturnal animal in an unlit, underground, rat-infested cell that was the size of a grave. From time to time he was tortured.
He wept. He begged not to be beaten anymore. He signed whatever confessions he was told to sign. He prayed.
Among the worst moments, he said, were the times he could hear babies crying in a nearby cell where women were imprisoned. He recalled hearing one woman pleading with a guard for several days for milk for her child.
He could hear other prisoners screaming as they were tortured.
“I used to ask God to help them,” he said.
The Justice Department has alleged, without disclosing any evidence whatsoever, that Mr. Arar is a member of, or somehow linked to, Al Qaeda. If that’s so, how can the administration possibly allow him to roam free? The Syrians, who tortured him, have concluded that Mr. Arar is not linked in any way to terrorism.
Official documents in Canada suggest that Mr. Arar was never the target of a terror investigation there. One former Canadian official, commenting on the Arar case, was quoted in a local newspaper as saying “accidents will happen” in the war on terror.

Whatever may have happened in Canada, nothing can excuse the behavior of the United States in this episode. Mr. Arar was deliberately dispatched by U.S. officials to Syria, a country that – as they knew – practices torture. And if Canadian officials hadn’t intervened, he most likely would not have been heard from again.
Mr. Arar is the most visible victim of the reprehensible U.S. policy known as extraordinary rendition, in which individuals are abducted by American authorities and transferred, without any legal rights whatever, to a regime skilled in the art of torture. The fact that some of the people swallowed up by this policy may in fact have been hard-core terrorists does not make it any less repugnant.

I remember when the United States at least ostensibly stood for human rights and the rule of law. I remember when the country claimed the moral high ground and used it to promote those values in the rest of the world. Maybe all along the U.S. had no right to that position, but I think that most people were willing to cede that ground to the country because I think most people believed that our system of government was truly designed to promote justice for everyone, and that we were sincere. America got the benefit of the doubt more often than not.
That’s no longer true, of course. There’s no longer any doubt that America has turned away from the rule of law and has embraced an “ends justify the means” position that has resulted in a spectacle of sordid abuses of both human rights and our own ideas of justice. And many Americans seem all too willing to accept this position. In the end, it will be Americans who will suffer for it. Without the rule of law, there is nothing that the average American will have to protect his own rights from his own government should it turn on him. And history shows us that it is far more likely than not that it will turn on him.
I forgot to give credit where it’s due when I posted this. Thanks to Prior Aelred for the head’s up on this story.