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Medium Read: “Getting Away with Torture”

March 9, 2010

The New York Review of Books isn’t all about books – its pages also tackle significant political issues. One such issue, which I touched on earlier today, is the previous Administration’s torture regime. In “Getting Away with Torture,” Georgetown law professor David Cole relates the most egregious instance of lawbreaking and detainee abuse known to this point.

The story is this: a Canadian citizen, Maher Arar, was arrested at JFK in 2002 by the CIA on faulty information from Canadian authorities after which he was flown to Syria. American officials transferred him so that he could be tortured and he was subsequently tortured, including imprisonment in a cell the size of a grave and beating with an electric cable. Eventually, the Syrian officials concluded he was innocent and released him.  Now, because of the distorted apparatus that currently exists in our justice system, he cannot bring charges against those who unlawfully imprisoned him and caused him to be tortured.

Just as the Founders’ system of checks and balances between the three branches of government, the Bill of Rights – especially the provisions related to civil liberties – recognized that humans are fallible and put limits upon governmental power in order to protect the innocent from the unjust application of that power. Beyond that, the Geneva Convention’s prohibition of torture was written to protect the basic standards of human dignity that all can recognize as sacred and unassailable. The story of Maher Ahar is another example of the U.S. government failing to live up to its own standards and the international standards that it helped create. As Cole explains at the end of the article, there is a possibility that a foreign court, in Canada or elsewhere, could take up Ahar’s case under the jurisdiction created by the Geneva Convention for any crimes against humanity. When a foreign court is forced to hold the United States up to those standards, it is nothing if not a sad, sad day.

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