Habeas corpus – which the English barons imposed upon King John in 1215
through Magna Carta -- the present sycophantic US Congress today handed
back with a smile and a flourish.
John, often described as the worst of English kings, was reined in. The
present President, certainly the worst of all American presidents, is
being handed the power to define who can be tortured, and what torture
is; and the courts are being debarred from stopping him.
The vote to strip out the anti-Habeas provision lost 48-51. It would
have taken only 41 Senators to filibuster the bill to death – and what
bill in the entire history of the Senate more deserved a filibuster?
Years from now, after more people have been tortured, the Supreme Court
may follow the clear statement of the Constitution that Habeas Corpus
may be suspended only during invasion or insurrection – but judging
from previous votes of the present Justices, they may uphold this law
by a 5-4 vote.
This law is second in despicability only to the protection explicitly
given slavery in the original Constitution of the United States.
I am ashamed that to my grandchildren I am bequeathing an America
This coming Monday, Jews who are observing Yom Kippur in
traditional form will read the stories of ten great rabbis who were
tortured to death by the Roman Empire. It is a cautionary tale about
And we will read one of the greatest of all the prophetic outcries:
Isaiah's delivery of God's message that refraining from food and
"hanging down one's head like a bulrush" is not what God meant by the
fast of Yom Kippur:
rather, striking off the shackles put on by wicked power;
feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless.
(Isaiah 57:14 to 58: 14; for my own translation
Isaiah interrupted the official liturgy of Yom Kippur to say God's
impassioned words. He describes how people shouted at him, shook their
fists at him, when he "interrupted" the sweet levitical hymns with
I hope in synagogues throughout America this Monday, rabbis and
congregants will speak out, and will realize that even Isaiah's words
have become tame liturgy, unless we rouse them to cry out the truth of
our own time.
"Raise your voice like a shofar!" says
I hope that Muslims and Christians -- who
also recognize that Isaiah, a prophet, spoke for God – will figure out
a way in the next few weeks to introduce this outcry into their own
prayers and studies, and will raise THEIR voices like the ram's horn.
The ram's horn that saved Abraham's son from death: may it save our
children from this deadly sin.
is the voice of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen who was grabbed by the
US as he returned from a business trip to Europe, on a connecting
flight into LaGuardia, on his way to Canada. The United States
"rendered" him to Syria to be tortured. His words have been
verified by an independent Canadian commission, which publicly
criticized both the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the US government
for its behavior.
With blessings for a Yom Kippur that makes a
Says Maher Arar:
<< I am not a
terrorist. I am not a member of Al Qaeda and I do not know any one who
belongs to this group. All I know about Al Qaeda is what I have seen in
the media. I have never been to Afghanistan. I have never been anywhere
near Afghanistan and I do not have any desire to ever go to Afghanistan.
<< Now, let me tell you who I am.
<< I am a Syrian-born Canadian. I moved here with my parents when
I was seventeen years old. I went to university and studied hard, and
eventually obtained a Masters degree in telecommunications. I met my
wife, Monia at McGill University. We fell in love and eventually
married in 1994. I knew then that she was special, but I had no idea
how special she would turn out to be.
<<If it were not for her I believe I would still be in prison.
<<We had our first child, a daughter named Bar⡬ in February,1997.
She is six years old now. In December, 1997, we moved to Ottawa from
Montreal. I took a job with a high tech firm, called The MathWorks, in
Boston in 1999, and my job involved a lot of travel within the US.
<<Then in 2001 I decided to come back to Ottawa to start my own
consulting company. We had our second child, Houd, in February, 2002.
He is twenty months old now.
<<In September 2002, I was with my wife and children, and her
family, vacationing in Tunis. I got an email from the MathWorks saying
that they might need me soon to assess a potential consulting work for
one of their customers. I said goodbye to my wife and family, and
headed back home to prepare for work.
<<I was using my air-miles to travel, and the best flight I could
get went from Tunis, to Zurich, to New York, to Montreal. My flight
arrived in New York at 2:00 p.m. on September 26th 2002. I had a few
hours to wait until my connecting flight to Montreal.
<<This is when my nightmare began.
<<Then a team of people came and told me they wanted to ask me
some questions. One man was from the FBI, and another was from the New
York Police Department. I was scared and did not know what was going
on. I told them I wanted a lawyer. They told me I had no right to a
lawyer, because I was not an American citizen.
<<I told them everything I knew. They asked me about my travel in
the United States. I told them about my work permits, and my business
continued until midnight. I was very, very worried, and asked for a
lawyer again and again. They just ignored me. Then they put me in
chains, on my wrists and ankles, and took me in a van to a place where
many people were being held another building by the airport. They would
not tell me what was happening.
<<At 1 in the morning they put me in a room with metal benches in
it. I could not sleep. I was very, very scared and disoriented. The
next morning they started questioning me again. They asked me about
what I think about Bin Laden, Palestine, Iraq. They also asked me about
the mosques I pray in, my bank accounts, my email addresses, my
relatives, about everything.
<<This continued on and off for eight hours.
<<Then a man from the INS came in and told me they wanted me to
volunteer to go to Syria. I said no way. I said I wanted to go home to
Canada or sent back to Switzerland. He said to me "you are a special
<<They asked me to sign a form. They would not let me read it,
but I just signed it. I was exhausted and confused and disoriented. I
had not slept or eaten since I was in the plane.
<<At about 6 in the evening they brought me some cold McDonalds
meal to eat. This was the first food I had eaten since the last meal I
had on the plane.
<<At about eight o'clock they put all the shackles and chains
back on, and put me in a van, and drove me to a prison. I later learned
this was the Metropolitan Detention Centre. They would not tell me what
was happening, or where I was going.
<<They strip searched me. It was humiliating. They put me in an
orange suit, and took me to a doctor, where they made me sign forms,
and gave me a vaccination. I asked what it was, and they would not tell
me. My arm was red for almost two weeks from that.
<<They took me to a cell. I had never seen a prison before in my
life, and I was terrified. I asked again for a phone call, and a
lawyer. They just ignored me. They treated me differently than the
other prisoners. They would not give me a toothbrush or toothpaste, or
reading material. I did get a copy of the Koran about two days later.
<<After five days, they let me make a phone call. I called
Monia's mother, who was here in Ottawa, and told her I was scared they
might send me to Syria, and asked her to help find me a lawyer. They
would only let me talk for two minutes.
<<On the seventh or eighth day they brought me a document, saying
they had decided to deport me, and I had a choice of where to be
deported. I wrote that I wanted to go to Canada. It asked if I had
concerns about going to Canada. I wrote no, and signed it.
<<The Canadian consul came on October 4, and I told her I was
scared of being deported to Syria. She told me that would not happen.
She told me that a lawyer was being arranged. I was very upset, and
scared. I could barely talk.
<<The next day, a lawyer came. She told me not to sign any
document unless she was present. We could only talk for 30 minutes. She
said she would try to help me. That was a Saturday.
<<On Sunday night at about 9:00 p.m., the guards came to my cell
and told me my lawyer was there to see me. I thought it was a strange
time, and they took me into a room with seven or eight people in it. I
asked where my lawyer was. They told me he had refused to come and
started questioning me again. They said they wanted to know why I did
not want to go back to Syria. I told them I would be tortured there.
<<They asked me to sign a document and I refused. I told them
they could not send me to Syria I would be tortured. I asked again for
<<At three in the morning they took me back to my cell.
<<At 3 in the morning on Tuesday, October 8th, a prison guard
woke me up and told me I was leaving. They took me to another room and
stripped and searched me again. Then they again chained and shackled
me. Then two officials took me inside a room and read me what they said
was a decision by the INS Director.
<<They told me that based on classified information that they
could not reveal to me, I would be deported to Syria. I said again that
I would be tortured there. Then they read part of the document where it
explained that INS was not the body that deals with Geneva Convention
<<Then they took me outside into a car and drove me to an airport
in New Jersey. Then they put me on a small private jet. I was the only
person on the plane with them. I was still chained and shackled. We
flew first to Washington. A new team of people got on the plane and the
others left. I overheard them talking on the phone, saying that Syria
was refusing to take me directly, but Jordan would take me.
<<Then we flew to Portland, to Rome, and then to Amman, Jordan.
All the time I was on the plane I was thinking how to avoid being
tortured. I was very scared. We landed in Amman at 3 in the morning
local time on October 9th.
<<They took me out of plane and there were six or seven Jordanian
men waiting for us. They blindfolded and chained me, and put me in a
<<They made me bend my head down in the back seat. Then, these
men started beating me. Every time I tried to talk they beat me. For
the first few minutes it was very intense.
<<Thirty minutes later we arrived at a building where they took
off my blindfold and asked routine questions, before taking me to a
cell. It was around 4:30 in the morning on October 9. Later that day,
they took my fingerprints, and blindfolded me and put me in a van. I
asked where I was going, and they told me I was going back to Montreal.
<<About forty-five minutes later, I was put into a different car.
These men started beating me again. They made me keep my head down, and
it was very uncomfortable, but every time I moved, they beat me again.
Over an hour later we arrived at what I think was the border with
Syria. I was put in another car and we drove for another three hours.
<<I was taken into a building, where some guards went through my
bags and took some chocolates I bought in Zurich. I asked one of the
people where I was and he told me I was in the Palestine branch of the
Syrian military intelligence. It was now about 6 in the evening on
<<Three men came and took me into a room. I was very, very
scared. They put me on a chair, and one of the men started asking me
questions. I later learned this man was a colonel. He asked me about my
brothers, and why we had left Syria. I answered all the questions.
<<If I did not answer quickly enough, he would point to a metal
chair in the corner and ask "Do you want me to use this?" I did not
know then what that chair was for. I learned later it was used to
<<I asked him what he wanted to hear. I was terrified, and I did
not want to be tortured. I would say anything to avoid torture. This
lasted for four hours. There was no violence, only threats this day. At
about 1 in the morning, the guards came to take me to my cell
<<We went into the basement, and they opened a door, and I looked
in. I could not believe what I saw. I asked how long I would be kept in
this place. He did not answer, but put me in and closed the door. It
was like a grave. It had no light. It was three feet wide. It was six
<<It was seven feet high. It had a metal door, with a small
opening in the door, which did not let in light because there was a
piece of metal on the outside for sliding things into the cell.
<<There was a small opening in the ceiling, about one foot by two
feet with iron bars. Over that was another ceiling, so only a little
light came through this. There were cats and rats up there, and from
time to time the cats peed through the opening into the cell. There
were two blankets, two dishes and two bottles. One bottle was for water
and the other one was used for urinating during the night. Nothing
else. No light.
<<I spent ten
months, and ten days inside that grave.
<<The next day
I was taken upstairs again. The beating started that day and was very
intense for a week, and then less intense for another week. That second
and the third days were the worst. I could hear other prisoners being
tortured, and screaming and screaming. Interrogations are carried out
in different rooms.
<<One tactic they use is to question prisoners for two hours, and
then put them in a waiting room, so they can hear the others screaming,
and then bring them back to continue the interrogation.
<<The cable is
a black electrical cable, about two inches thick. They hit me with it
everywhere on my body. They mostly aimed for my palms, but sometimes
missed and hit my wrists they were sore and red for three weeks. They
also struck me on my hips, and lower back. Interrogators constantly
threatened me with the metal chair, tire and electric shocks.
<<They used the cable on the second and third day, and after that
mostly beat me with their hands, hitting me in the stomach and on the
back of my neck, and slapping me on the face. Where they hit me with
the cables, my skin turned blue for two or three weeks, but there was
no bleeding. At the end of the day they told me tomorrow would be
worse. So I could not sleep.
<<Then on the third day, the interrogation lasted about eighteen
<<They beat me from time to time and make me wait in the waiting
room for one to two hours before resuming the interrogation. While in
the waiting room I heard a lot of people screaming. They wanted me to
say I went to Afghanistan. This was a surprise to me. They had not
asked about this in the United States.
<<They kept beating me so I had
to falsely confess and told them I did go to Afghanistan. I was ready
to confess to anything if it would stop the torture. They wanted me to
say I went to a training camp. I was so scared I urinated on myself