This morning while waiting in the doctor’s office I picked up a copy of Maclean’s from this past September. It was an issue commemorating the ten year anniversary of 9/11. It profiled the lives of those who had been affected in some way by the incident. Soldiers, politicians, locals and one Maher Arar. His case is a few years old and most might be familiar with it, but I had only a cursory knowledge of the details. I became angry while reading about how this man (a Canadian citizen) endured torture for a year in his native Syria all because he fit the profile of a terrorist (male of Middle Eastern descent who traveled a lot and had a proficiency with computers). What really got to me was reading about the aftermath of his ordeal; I began to cry when I read how he had returned home a “broken man,” a jumpy and nervous shadow of his former self. This I think is the real tragedy of the story, and it reminded me of a passage from W.H. Auden’s poem, “On the Shield of Achilles.”
Throughout all of the debates about torture we have had to endure (I find it offensive that its even debated) this point about its after-effects on the victim is noticeably absent (I have my theories why but that’s a story for another day). When torture is debated, the focus is never about the permanent damage done to the individual, but rather the legal aspects (is torture a violation of human rights?/are terrorists subject to legal protections?) or the strategic aspects (torture does/does not work for gathering information). All too often the effects on the person are not brought up. Best case scenario, if you are are deemed to have been wrongully detained and tortured, the adverse effects are simply quantified and monetary compensation is made (p.s. The going rate for extraordinary rendition if you are a Canadian citizen is apparently 10 million dollars and an apology from Stephen Harper).
I think what irks me most is that around the time that this happened (2002 to 2003), any number of people would have thought it better to be safe than sorry, and would have supported Arar’s detainment and deportation to Syria, even if reluctantly. In the midst of crisis our better judgment apparently goes out the window and we will cosign all sorts of human rights infringements under the pretense of increasing security. I think the following clip will explain just how serious an issue this is and how indignant we should all be about the lives that are ruined in the name of “freedom.”
A little backstory: in this episode of Star Trek: TNG, a Romulan spy (the Federation is at war with the Romulans) has been exposed and a military tribunal convenes and begins using “insinuation and innuendo” to cast suspicion on everyone. One young unfortunate, Simon Tarsus has been singled out for lying on his Starfleet application and saying that he had a Vulcan grandparent when he actually had a Romulan grandparent (the two look similar). Well Captain Picard don’t take no mess, and as he realizes that his ship has become the setting for a deplorable witch-hunt he elucidates upon the ideals that make the Federation what it is. Enjoy.