Regrets? Over the torture of one measly Canadian? No sir. Not the United States of America.
David Wilkins, the U.S. Ambassador to Canada, was eye-poppingly cavalier when asked about the Maher Arar affair. Mr. Arar, a Canadian citizen, was deported by the United States to Syria, his birthplace, where he was held for 10 months in a cell three feet wide, six feet long and seven feet high. He is now back, and the Canadian government has been holding a lacerating public inquiry into its role, however limited, in his nightmare. The U.S. government has refused (under Mr. Wilkins's predecessor, Paul Cellucci) to participate in the inquiry.
As described by Canadian Press reporter Jim Brown, Mr. Wilkins "seemed puzzled" when asked if his government had regrets about the Arar affair. "You talking about regrets by the United States? The United States made that decision [to deport Arar] based on the facts it had, in the best interests of the people of the United States, and we stand behind it."
He said that the United States has to make "tough decisions," that the war on terror means "you don't get second chances," that there would probably be more deportations and that Canadians who hold dual citizenship should consider themselves forewarned they could find themselves in Mr. Arar's shoes some day.
About that "tough decision" to deport Mr. Arar to Syria: Mr. Arar was taken out in the middle of the night under police guard and put on an airplane. There had been an administrative hearing late on that Sunday night, but he had no lawyer present. He had no opportunity to make his case before a judge responsible both for screening the evidence against him (the United States suspected him of being an al-Qaeda agent) and weighing any risk he might have posed against the possibility that he would face torture in Syria. He had no chance for due process. Some decision.
Mr. Wilkins, who speaks on behalf of President George W. Bush, was criticized in this space yesterday for his comments dismissing concerns about U.S. guns finding their way to the streets of Toronto. Now he is similarly dismissive of the fate of a Canadian citizen shipped to a known torture state by his government. (If Mr. Arar is an al-Qaeda member, nothing that has emerged publicly has provided convincing evidence.) Mr. Wilkins evidently feels it is pointless to fret about due process in a dangerous time. What, us worry?
The Arar affair was a test case of civil liberties in a time of crisis. The usual safeguards of a democracy were tossed out the window, and an innocent man was crushed. In the world according to Mr. Wilkins, no one should despair if there are more Arars.
© 2005 Globe and Mail###