Since 9/11, there has been a vigorous debate in this country about the morality, legality and efficacy of using torture as a means of obtaining needed information. It is clear that President Bush believes that torture is sometimes needed, while President Obama believes that torture is always wrong and that information can be collected using other legal and moral methods.
It is important that the discussions about torture always keep the experiences of survivors of torture clearly in mind. More can be learned about the unfathomable horror that torture survivors experienced from the Torture Abolition Survivors Support Coalition International.
Maher Arar is a torture survivor. In 2002, acting on information from the Canadian government, the U.S. government seized Arar, a Canadian citizen, at JFK Airport in New York and held him for 12 days without charge. Our government then sent him to Syria -- the technical term for transferring a prisoner to a third-party country is "rendered" -- where the U.S. government knew that it was likely he would be tortured.
He was detained by Syria for 12 months -- 10 of which were spent confined to a small, underground cell -- and he was tortured. Arar reports that he was beaten regularly with shredded cables, and locked in a 3-foot by 6-foot "grave" with no light and many rats.
Mr. Arar was released and returned to Canada. Canada has since conducted a thorough investigation into Arar's arrest, torture and detention, and has cleared him of any connection to terrorist activities. As a result of its investigation, the Canadian government formally apologized to Arar because it provided inaccurate information to the U.S. government that led to his torture. The Canadian government also paid Arar millions in compensation.
In sharp contrast to its northern neighbor, the United States not only has failed to apologize to Arar, it has actively blocked his attempts to secure such remedy. In 2009, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a lawsuit, filed by Arar and the Center for Constitutional Rights. The Supreme Court declined to consider an appeal.
On Monday, May 21, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture joins with Amnesty International USA and the Center for Constitutional Rights in delivering more than 60,000 names of people who have signed statements urging President Obama to issue a formal apology to Arar.
The date is significant because on May 21, 2009, President Obama gave a speech on national security at the National Archives, in which he said:
Unfortunately, faced with an uncertain threat, our government made a series of hasty decisions. I believe that many of these decisions were motivated by a sincere desire to protect the American people. But I also believe that all too often our government made decisions based on fear rather than foresight; that all too often our government trimmed facts and evidence to fit ideological predispositions. Instead of strategically applying our power and our principles, too often we set those principles aside as luxuries that we could no longer afford. During this season of fear, too many of us -- Democrats and Republicans, politicians, journalists and citizens -- fell silent.
President Obama has sought to move this country beyond the season of fear. Now is the time for the President to issue a formal apology to torture survivor Maher Arar, who was one of the victims of the "hasty decisions" he mentions.
The delivery to the White House of the names of those urging President Obama to issue an apology to Arar also will mark the anniversary of President Reagan's statement to the U.S. Senate on May 20, 1988, after signing the UN Convention Against Torture. President Reagan noted that:
"Ratification of the Convention by the United States will clearly express United States opposition to torture, an abhorrent practice unfortunately still prevalent in the world today."
An apology is appropriate to Maher Arar because torture is a moral abomination. It runs contrary to the teachings of all religions. It is an egregious violation of the dignity and worth of every person. The Golden Rule makes it clear: Torture should not be perpetrated on others because we would not want others to torture us.