Suppose this happened to you, an American citizen. Your plane lands at the Montreal airport and Canadian officials hold you without charges. They don’t let you talk to a lawyer, then ship you off to another country to be tortured. After ten months you’re released without any charges being filed.
Oops. Guess we made a mistake, says Canada. Sorry for all the torture. Hope there’s no hard feelings.
Well, there should be. And in Maher Arar’s case, there are. For this is just what happened to him. Except, he holds joint Canadian/Syrian citizenship and it was American officials who seized him in New York. A New York Times story about Arar’s lawsuit against the U.S. government starts this way:
Foreign citizens who change planes at airports in the United States can legally be seized, detained without charges, deprived of access to a lawyer or the courts, and even denied basic necessities like food, lawyers for the government said in Brooklyn federal court yesterday. (Here's another story on this subject).
Isn’t that extraordinary? And it’s even worse than that. For the U.S. government also sent him off to Syria, even though they told his lawyer that he was in a New Jersey jail. The government is saying that courts should keep their nose out of national security issues. Disturbingly, it sounds like the judge in this case is receptive to that argument.
That’s even more extraordinary. It shows how far we’ve sunk since 9/11. Travesties like extraordinary rendition (which I’ve written about before) barely generate a yawn from a public that sheepishly accepts the Bush administration’s claim that everything is justified in a time of war.
Oh, excuse me. I forgot that we’re no longer engaged in a “war on terror.” It is a “struggle against global extremism.” Well, there’s plenty of extremism to struggle against right here at home.
So let’s stop the extreme practice of kidnapping foreigners and shipping them off to be tortured in another country without filing any charges against them, or giving them any access to the court system.
And let’s stop the even more extreme practice of unconstitutionally arresting American citizens such as Jose Padilla, who has been held for over three years without being charged with a crime or given access to a lawyer.
Al Qaeda extremists are abhorrent. But so are United States government extremists. I don’t like extremism in any form, except for taking an extreme stand against extremism.