Wednesday, November 7, 2007

grokking a bad travel experience

I told myself that my next blog post would be about Maher Arar. You know, that Canadian guy who was changing planes at JFK airport on his way home to Canada, when he was seized by U.S. Officials, and sent to Syria to be tortured and confined for nearly a year.

I watched an excerpt of his testimony before Congress last month, courtesy of Amy Goodman's Democracy Now! (quoted below). So chilling is his story, I felt compelled to talk about it. However, it has been difficult for me to compose my thoughts. Part of it is lazy procrastination, an inability to allocate and manage my time well, sustain focused concentration; an age-old problem for me, and of far too many people in today's society.

I also find that every single day there is something new reported in the news that I feel compelled to speak out about. So many astonishing things going on all at once. With my compulsion to respond to each and every thing firing in every direction, I ultimately write about nothing.

I began my blog as a way to formulate my observations of life, and to share them with anyone who might happen along and take interest. I didn't have a specific focus or structure. It was to be a shadow to my daily life experiences. Lately my attention has been arrested by the things going on in Washington. I've never been that devoted to politics, but now I very much feel like our freedoms are being threatened, and that complacency is extremely dangerous.

What I wanted to apprehend about Mr. Arar's case is the very horror of his experience. I am ashamed of my country's action, and I want to comprehend what he went through. I know that his story reflects the story of countless others who are being tortured in secret prisons at the behest of this administration and in the name of the endless War on Terrorism. Like someone who has overdosed on sedatives, I don't want to fall asleep again. My survival depends on jolting myself with the real sensations of existence.

How many times have we heard "arrested without charge". Do ordinary citizens comprehend what that means? If the victim of extraordinary rendition has an Arab name, are Americans shut out from feeling empathy, and dulled from considering the ramifications?

I'm determined to wake myself up, because I know I have been complacent. You just can't help but distance yourself when exposed by this stuff day after day. You’re liable to go crazy if you don’t. I make a conscious effort to read and listen to as much news as I can every day. I didn't used to do that. Now I feel I have to. And for the most part I feel there's only so much I can do about what's going on.

I recently watched The Last Mimzy, a recent Fantasy/SciFi movie for kids. In it, a family's home is violently invaded SWAT-style by a Homeland Security team, and they are rendered to a detainment facility for interrogation. It's a terrifying part of the movie, it really gets the adrenaline going. It seemed completely at odds with the storyline, which was predominated by a spiritual element

I didn't know what to think about the inclusion of this incongruous plot component. The leader of the operation was for the most part a sympathetic character, doing his job. Eventually it was determined that it was all a misunderstanding, the family didn’t raise objections, but understood that these mistakes happen. I can't tell you how much of a disconnect I had with that. Otherwise, I thought it was an entertaining movie that was done pretty well.

Are we ready, though, for home invasion to be such a mainstay of popular culture that it can serve as a modular plot device to be dropped into the story to keep the audience on the edge of its seat?

I haven't seen the film Rendition yet. I’d like to. I've heard that its good. My hope is through the art of filmmaking they have accurately and effectively depicted even a little of what state-sponsored kidnapping and torture is like. Perhaps more Americans will speak out against it.

Here are two YouTube clips from Democracy Now. Arar's testimony before Congress begins at the very end of the first clip, and continues at the beginning of the second one. I regret that I don't have a clip that is neat and succinct. An excerpt from the text transcript from the program follows.

MAHER ARAR: Let me be clear. I am not a terrorist. I am not a member of al-Qaeda or any other terrorist group. I am here today to tell you about what happened to me and how I was detained and interrogated by the United States government, transported to Syria against my will, tortured and kept there for a year.

Upon viewing my valid Canadian passport, an immigration officer pulled me aside. Officers from the FBI and the New York Police Department arrived and began to interrogate me. My repeated requests for a lawyer were all denied. I was told that I had no right to a lawyer, because I was not an American citizen.

I was then taken to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, where I was kept for the next ten days. After five days of repeated requests, I was finally allowed to make a brief phone call to alert my family of my whereabouts.

On October 8th at 3:00 in the morning, I was awakened and told that they had decided to remove me to Syria. By then, it was becoming more and more clear to me that I was being sent to Syria for the purpose of being tortured. There, I was put in a dark underground cell that was more like a grave. It was three feet wide, six feet deep and seven feet high. Life in that cell was hell. I spent ten months and ten days in that grave.

During the early days of my detention, I was interrogated and physically tortured. I was beaten with an electrical cable and threatened with a metal chair, the tire and electric shocks. I was forced to falsely confess that I had been to Afghanistan. When I was not being beaten, I was put in a waiting room so that I could hear the screams of other prisoners.

The cries of the women still haunt me the most.

After 374 days of torture and wrongful detention, I was finally released to Canadian embassy officials on October 5, 2003.

These past few years have been a nightmare for me. Since my return to Canada, my physical pain has slowly healed, but the cognitive and psychological scars from my ordeal remain with me on a daily basis. I still have nightmares and recurring flashbacks. I am not the same person that I was. I also hope to convey how fragile our human rights have become and how easily they can be taken from us by the same governments that have sworn to protect them.

REP. JERROLD NADLER: I believe that what happened here was that the United States government consciously and deliberately conspired with the government of Syria to have him tortured. That’s why he was rendered to Syria. This was not a case of Expedited Removal, as the Attorney General, I believe, untruthfully testified to our subcommittee. And I think this violates the criminal statute against torture. The obvious -- the only reason to send him to Syria was to have him tortured. The fact that we sought assurances, diplomatic assurances, from a country that’s on the State Department terrorist list and that’s been on the list for ten years of countries that routinely practice torture is obviously a joke.

It’s very difficult to get at the issue when the Justice Department won’t prosecute cases. We’re holding hearings and investigating to bring some of these facts to light. It’s already -- we can’t make it a criminal act, because it’s already a criminal act. So I’m not -- besides bringing this to light and referring this to the Justice Department for prosecution, I’m not sure what we can do.

Now, notice what happened here. He didn’t try to enter the United States. The Expedited Removal statute is designed to stop people from coming into the United States who don’t have proper documents and to give us an expedited way -- I opposed its enactment, but it’s supposed to give us an expedited way, without going before an immigration judge, of preventing someone who’s illegal from entering the United States in the first place -- that is, whose presence in the United States would be illegal. But he wasn’t seeking to enter the United States; he was changing planes at Kennedy on a flight from Europe to Canada. If we suspected him of something, we should simply have sent him on to Canada, which is a foreign country. He wasn’t seeking to enter the United States. Instead, we chose to send him to Syria, where he had been born and where he lived until he was a teenager, but otherwise he had no connections with them. And the only obvious reason to do that is to have him tortured.

─Democracy Now! October 24, 2007

    Music I blogged along with...

  • Khyal: Raga Ahir Bhairav─Lakshmi Shankar─Les Heures et les Saisons
  • El Mariachi (Cancion/Son)─Mariachi Tapatío De José Marmolejo - "El Auténtico"─Mexico's Pioneer mariachis - Vol. 2: Mariachi Tapatío De José Marmolejo
  • Budak Ceurik─Ida Widawati; Ensemble Lingkung Seni 'Malati'─Udan Mas
  • A Sunday Kind Of Love─Ella Fitzgerald─Ella Fitzgerald: The War Years (1941 - 1947)
  • Mad World─Gary JulesMa belle si ton ame
  • Gabriel Bataille: Ma belle si ton ame─Exsultame
  • J.S. Bach: Aria: “Schlummert ein, ihr matten Augen”, from Cantata 82a. Kammerorchester C. Ph. E Bach, Berlin, Bach-Kantaten
  • Salieri: Son qual lacera tartana─Cecilia Bartoli, soprano─The Salieri Album
  • Haydn: Piano Sonata No.33 in C Minor, Hob. 16:20: 2. Andante con mota─Emanuel Ax, piano
  • J.S. Bach: Cantata No.27: Coro e Recitativo: Wer Weiss, Wie Nahe Mir Mein Ende"─Gächinger Kantorei, Bach Collegium Stuttgart─Bach Cantatas BWV 27-29

1 comment:

Meera Hyphenated said...

I simply cannot believe that a story like that really exists in this time and place, in my country that I have trusted. I don't know what to do with this information.