CIA insiders objected to the arrest, rendition, and torture of Syrian-born Canadian Maher Arar, but high-ranking officials ignored concerns that they were punishing an innocent man, according to former spy and whistleblower John Kiriakou in an interview with the Canadian Press.
After serving two years behind bars, Kiriakou—the only government official to be punished in connection with the U.S. torture program—was released from Loretto Prison in Pennsylvania in February, under orders to finish the remainder of his 30-month sentence at home.
The interview with journalist Alexander Panetta took place in the former CIA official's house in Virginia.
Arar was detained during a layover at New York's JFK Airport in September 2002 on his way home to his family in Canada. He was held in solitary confinement for nearly two weeks, interrogated, and denied meaningful access to a lawyer, according to the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represented Arar in the federal lawsuit Arar v. Ashcroft.
The Bush administration labeled him a member of Al Qaeda, and rendered him not to Canada—his home and country of citizenship—but to Syrian intelligence authorities renowned for torture.
In Syria, Arar said he was interrogated and tortured without charge, and forced to falsely confess attending a training camp in Afghanistan. After nearly a year of confinement, Syrian authorities released Arar, publicly stating that they had found no connection to any criminal or terrorist organization or activity.
Reporting on his interview with Kiriakou, who was a branch chief within the CIA's Counterterrorism Center at the time of the Arar episode, Panetta writes:
Kiriakou expressed disgust with his country's role in sending the engineer to be tortured in his native Syria, and with its continuing failure to issue an apology like Canada has.
He described a dynamic within the agency in which one mid-to-high-level officer ignored repeated objections from her subordinates, and insisted on pushing ahead.
"I can tell you that a lot of people inside the CIA objected to this," Kiriakou said.
"(They said), 'This is the wrong guy. He hasn’t done anything'." Arar was grabbed during a New York airport layover and flown to a notorious Syrian prison. He has described a year-long ordeal that included being beaten and stuffed into a body-sized slot in a windowless dungeon. Arar likened it to being buried alive.
Arar's U.S. lawyer, CCR's Maria LaHood, told the Canadian Press that she hoped Kiriakou's revelations would bring about long-overdue atonement.
"He's never received an apology from the United States... His name continues to be smeared," LaHood said. "As far as we know, he’s still on a watch list. It’s not too late for accountability here."