Monday, January 29, 2007

Sarah Anderson: Torture Sours U.S.-Canadian Right-wing Lovefest

Torture Sours U.S.-Canadian Right-wing Lovefest
By Sarah Anderson, AlterNet

Stephen Harper, Canada's conservative Prime Minister, campaigned on strengthening ties with the Bush administration. But the love affair has ended over the American "rendition" of a Canadian citizen to Syria

A U.S. Ambassador lashed out against a foreign official last week for standing up to the Bush Administration - and it wasn't against Hugo Chavez or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or any of the other usual suspects.

It was Canadian Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day - a fundamentalist creationist, anti-abortion, anti-gay rights hawk who once spoke at a "Canadians for Bush" rally. At the onset of the Iraq war, he published a pro-Bush letter in the Wall Street Journal with Stephen Harper, who would become Canada's Prime Minister in 2006. Day and Harper blasted their own government's opposition to the U.S. invasion and lauded the Bush administration's "fundamental vision of civilization and human values."

That conservative lovefest is now over. Last week Day and U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Wilkins exchanged the most hostile tit-for-tat to date over the case of Maher Arar. In 2002, U.S. authorities detained Arar, a Canadian citizen, at JFK airport. After accusing him of having links to al Qaeda, they sent him to Syria, where he was tortured for nearly a year before being released without charge.

After an exhaustive inquiry, an independent Canadian commission cleared Arar of any terrorist ties last fall. On January 26, the Ottawa government announced it would apologize for its role in the debacle and compensate Arar to the tune of about US$8.5 million, plus legal fees.
But while the Canadian government has now admitted that Arar is indeed the innocent computer engineer and father of two he always said he was, the Bush Administration continues to insist that Arar belongs on their "no-fly" list of terrorism suspects. This has meant that Arar, who spent 10 months in a grave-like underground cell, continues to live under a cloud of secret accusations.

Despite his ideological affinity for President Bush, Prime Minister Harper has not been oblivious to the fact the U.S. government is about as popular among Canadians today as it was when the Americans invaded in the War of 1812. In October, he was moved to ring up Bush and ask him to "come clean" about the Arar affair. He even went so far as to ask that Bush acknowledge "the deficiencies and inappropriate conduct that occurred in this case." That, of course, was as likely as the President admitting to shirking his Vietnam War National Guard duties.
The most U.S. Justice Department officials offered to do was brief the Canadians on the dirt they supposedly had gathered about Arar from their own sources. When this finally occurred last week, Stockwell Day, Canada's version of our Homeland Security chief, promptly declared it bogus.

"We've looked at all their information and there is nothing that materially changes our position," Day told reporters. "Mr. Arar is not a threat, nor is his family."

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