In testimony before the House Judiciary Committee today, Attorney General Michael Mukasey commented on the case of Maher Arar, who was detained in the United States and subsequently removed to Syria where he was tortured and ill-treated.
Mukasey was asked whether the United States received sufficient assurances from Syria that Mr. Arar would not be subjected to torture, and whether those assurances warranted sending Mr. Arar to Syria rather than to Canada, where Mr. Arar is also a citizen.
Mukasey answered: “Sending him to Canada could have posed a danger to this country. Sending him to Syria was safer, assuming we got the assurances, which we did.”
What risk? A September 2006 report, produced following the Canadian government’s inquiry into the Arar matter, concluded that there was no evidence that Mr. Arar committed any offense or constituted a security risk, and that the information which led to his detention and deportation was inaccurate and misleading.
Even if Mr. Arar had posed a risk, the United States should not have relied on Syria’s “diplomatic assurances.” These promises are unreliable and unenforceable and circumvent the non-refoulement obligations of the sending country. The Canadian Commission of Inquiry, which studied the Arar matter, concluded that Mr. Arar’s case clearly exemplifies the problem with relying on diplomatic assurances from a state that routinely practices torture and abuse.
Injustices such as the Arar incident have significantly undermined the United States’ moral authority. To restore its reputation as a world leader on human rights, the United States must confront such incidents publicly, acknowledge its past mistakes, provide effective remedies to victims of abuse, and take the necessary corrective measures to uphold the absolute ban on torture.