Tonight, the Institute for Policy Studies will award its International Human Rights Award to extraordinary rendition survivor Maher Arar. In 2002, Arar, a Canadian citizen, was falsely accused of terrorist links and handed over to Syrian authorities where he spent nearly a year enduring brutal torture. Just last month the Canadian government exonerated Arar and criticized both Canadian and US officials for his ordeal. Maher Arar’s Human Rights award will be presented by Oscar award-winning actor Vanessa Redgrave. [includes rush transcript]
Redgrave is one of the most famous of the Redgrave acting dynasty with a career that spans some 47 years. She has served as a UN Goodwill Ambassador and was a founding member of International Artists Against Racism. Most recently she has spoken out on behalf of Guantanamo detainees... and she also spoke out when the New York Theater workshop canceled 'My Name is Rachel Corrie.'
- Vanessa Redgrave. Oscar-winning Actress and Human Rights Activist.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined right now by Vanessa Redgrave, the Oscar-winning actor. She is not in Britain. We last saw her at her home and interviewed her there in London. But today she’s in Washington, D.C. Before we talk about the reason for the visit, Vanessa, as you listened to the story about the production of My Name is Rachel Corrie now finally in New York — you were a big part of it, being at the Royal Court Theatre — what are your thoughts?
VANESSA REDGRAVE: I am very glad that all those who planned and wanted My Name is Rachel Corrie to be seen in America have been successful. It indicates to me a wonderful thing, that there are many, many Americans who prefer to know the truth and also want to protect human rights. And Rachel was killed defending the human lives, which is the first human right, of a Palestinian family.
And I’m here in Washington, not able to be in New York last night or the previous nights, because I am here at the request of the Institute [for] Policy Studies. I’m going to have the enormous honor of presenting their [Letelier-Moffitt] Award to Maher Arar and to the Center for Constitutional Rights, which is headed by Mike Ratner, the chief legal firm that worked so hard with Maher Arar to obtain his release and to obtain his exoneration, which the Canadian government has fully recognized, subsequent to the special government-sponsored commission of inquiry headed by Justice [O’Connor].
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s talk about Maher Arar. 2002, he is coming home from a family vacation headed through Kennedy Airport, picked up by U.S. authorities, put in a New York jail for a few weeks, and then he is sent off to Syria. He’s a Canadian citizen, but he’s sent to Syria. He was born there, though he left when he was 17. The victim of what is known as "extraordinary rendition." Can you talk, Vanessa Redgrave, about this term, this practice of extraordinary rendition? He says he wept all the way to Syria, telling the U.S. authorities, his captors at the time, that he would be tortured if he was sent to Syria, and ultimately he was.
VANESSA REDGRAVE: Yes, indeed, he was. Well, the chief concern about extraordinary rendition is what goes on before a man, in this case Maher Arar, is rendered to a country like Syria, where over the years before he was sent to Syria both Amnesty International and the United States State Department itself had issued a number of public reports which warned and emphasized that the Syrian government and the Syrian military intelligence practiced torture in the interrogation of prisoners who they held incommunicado for that purpose during the early days of their interrogation. So he was rendered to Syria in full knowledge of both Americans and of Canadians that he would be tortured there.
I think the other really important thing is, as I’ve got the opportunity, Amy and Democracy Now!, is to urge every single person who hears or sees this program to go onto the website and the summarized report of Justice [O’Connor] for the Canadian commission of inquiry which exonerated Maher Arar totally of all information that had been posted up and exchanged and shared between Canadian intelligence services and the American intelligence services and the Syrian intelligence services. That website is www.ararcommission.ca.
AMY GOODMAN: We will link to that website at democracynow.org.
VANESSA REDGRAVE: Good. That’s good. Well, I hope that anyone watching this program or everyone watching this program will download. It is a summarized report of — and the section that I read between 2:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. this morning, thanks to Phyllis Bennis at the IPS, and studied very carefully is there. It’s summarized, because the full report is 1,200 pages long. The full summarized report is some 364 pages. And the section that I started in the early hours of this morning is 48 pages.
And the judge said in the report, the main conclusion, says the Canadian government, and they quote Justice [O’Connor]: "I am able to say categorically that there is no evidence to indicate that Mr. Arar has committed any offense or that his activities constitute a threat to the security of Canada." When you read this report and read it again very carefully, you may draw different — some different conclusions from my own thoughts on what I have seen and read.
First of all, the government and Justice [O’Connor] have to be commended for there being a commission of inquiry. We’ve never had a commission of inquiry in Britain, in the U.K., into the renditions, sequestrations, interrogations and torture practiced against British citizens, both before they were taken to Guantanamo and in Guantanamo. Neither has there been a commission of inquiry, to my knowledge, in the United States.
But what is very, very clear, and the judge is very factual, and he says, for instance, one aspect of the Canadian and American lookout requests — these were the first requests that went so that he would be picked up when he came into JFK — one aspect that is highly alarming is the most unfair way in which Project A-O Canada — that’s a special section that was set up within the Canadian Mounted Police — described Mr. Arar and Dr. Mazigh — Dr Mazigh is his wife, Monia — I quote, or the judge quotes, "a group of Islamic extremist individuals suspected of being linked to the al-Qaeda terrorist movement." That’s the judge’s quote from the documents that were delivered during this inquiry. And the judge says, and I quote verbatim, "a description that was inaccurate, without any basis, and potentially extremely inflammatory in the United States in the fall of 2001." And what his report makes clear is that this allegation was based on no substance whatsoever from the very, very beginning.
And then other allegations were added, which included the Syrian bout de papier, as it’s called in the report, which subsequent to the torture of Maher Arar — which, of course, was not referred to by the Syrian intelligence — are a signed confession. And when we read about signed confessions in this case, he was forced to sign a document saying, which they put to him, "You must sign that you trained in a camp in Afghanistan." Under torture, he signed that and other statements, which they had drawn up, just as was done to Moazzam Begg and other British citizens who were detained in Guantanamo.
This compilation was passed from hand to hand, from one section of intelligence to another section of intelligence, without a single caveat, as they’re called in legal terms, meaning there was never any note which says there is no proof of this allegation, we have not found any proof, or this must have been obtained under torture.
So, it reminded me, although this is not what Justice O’Connor said, it reminded me of what I know is systematic and yet so totally out of control and unsystematic, an unsubstantiated network or spider’s web going to and fro, to and fro, to and fro, which ended up with him being tortured and imprisoned for nearly a year. Do you know what it reminded me of, Amy? It reminded me of a film I saw and then the book that was published about the notorious case of Slansky, Rudolph Slansky, who was interrogated and tortured under the communist totalitarian regime of Czechoslovakia. There are many other such cases.
AMY GOODMAN: Vanessa Redgrave, we just have a minute, and I wanted to ask you, yes, even the conservative prime minister of Canada has now lodged a protest with the Bush administration.
VANESSA REDGRAVE: Yes, he has, and apologized to Maher Arar.
AMY GOODMAN: And now, there will be a question of compensation. Could Maher Arar have come into the United States to receive this award tonight from the Institute for Policy Studies?
VANESSA REDGRAVE: No, he won’t be with us tonight. The IPS, the Institute [for] Policy Studies, have videoed a message from him, and it’s a very, very special message. This is an extraordinary man of great courage, and so is his wife, his mother, their children and the whole of his family, because it takes enormous courage to come out into the public to give press conferences, to challenge courts with lawyers, of course, but it still takes enormous courage. And he has suffered, and so has his family, horribly. So it’s a very special day, and what’s extraordinary is that this man, this Canadian citizen, has upheld the most important human rights values and laws that many, many people have died for and which are now being ransacked and violated by my own government and by the present administration in the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: Vanessa Redgrave, we just have ten seconds. You are an Oscar Award-winning actor, part of a family of world-renowned artists. Why focus on this right now?
VANESSA REDGRAVE: Well, you see, it’s probably connected with the age I am. I’ll be 70 next January. I’m a war child. I know why my parents and their generation went into the navy, into the army, why they fought to defeat the horrendous crimes and horrors of Hitler’s Third Reich and Japanese fascism.
AMY GOODMAN: We have 5 seconds.
VANESSA REDGRAVE: So, I remember the day Eleanor Roosevelt presented the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and that’s why I’m here in Washington today.
AMY GOODMAN: I’m sorry to leave it there. Vanessa Redgrave, thank you.