It's telling that Ottawa has not demanded answers from Washington.
Dateline: Monday, September 25, 2006
"Do you believe that torturing terror suspects is a more effective national security strategy than, say, securing our ports and borders?"
Now, it's horrifying enough to realize that the subject of torture was casually presented like this in the "question of the day" on a recent CNN broadcast of Lou Dobbs Tonight. But note that the question isn't even about the morality of inflicting excruciating pain and suffering on another human being.
Rather, it's about the effectiveness of torture. Does torture work? Do we have any stats? How does torture stack up against other methods like tighter port and border security? Or how about nuclear war; might that be more effective?
That a purely practical question about torture was breezily aired on a prime-time news show – without stirring public comment – reveals the moral abyss we've fallen into in North America.
This moral abyss helps explain the actions of our national police force, as revealed in Justice O'Connor's report last week on the horrific ordeal suffered by Canadian engineer Maher Arar.
In this moral abyss, our society has come to accept as normal the lawlessness of President George W. Bush's "war on terror," which includes waging illegal war and perpetrating grotesque human rights violations, including secret prisons, torture and perpetual detention without trial.
While many Canadians reject this new norm, Ottawa has embraced it. Under the Liberals, Parliament passed a sweeping anti-terrorism law that wiped out crucial civil liberties.
It was in this context of hysteria that RCMP officers decided to play fast and loose with the truth, providing U.S. authorities with false information that Arar and his wife were "Islamic extremist individuals," with suspected links to Al Qaeda. This was like waving a red flag in front of an angry, agitated bull.
The RCMP further titillated the angry bull with more false information – including that Arar was in Washington on 9/11, even though he was actually in San Diego. Keen to learn more, the U.S. handed Arar over to Syria for torture and imprisonment.
So far, Stephen Harper has declined to say whether he will heed O'Connor's recommendation that Ottawa lodge formal protests with the United States and Syria. This is, surely, the least Harper must do to signal Canada is not willing to accept lawlessness in the name of fighting terror.
But Harper knows a formal protest would infuriate Washington. And he has carefully cultivated close ties with the White House, signalling, as he did on the fifth anniversary of 9/11, Canada's full support for Bush's "war on terror."
It's interesting to recall Harper's extravagant moral outrage over the sponsorship scandal.
That scandal, as serious as it was, involved only money. The Arar scandal involves an assault on something much more precious – our most basic democratic protections.
But when it comes to denouncing those responsible for the Arar scandal, including Harper's friends in Washington, we haven't heard too much out of Steve.
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