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Leading Syrian Human Rights Lawyer Blasts U.S. Foreign Policy of "Empire" in the Middle East

StoryMarch 03, 2005
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As Washington’s rhetoric towards Syria grows more hostile, we turn to a perspective seldom heard in corporate media: the perspective of Syrians who are not government officials. We go to Damascus to speak with Haythem al-Maleh, one of Syria’s leading human rights lawyers. [includes rush transcript]

As we turn now to Syria. Since September 11th and the launch of the so-called war on terror, the Bush administration has characterized the country as a supporter of terrorism and a destabilizing factor in the Middle East. Since the occupation of Iraq began in March 2003, Washington’s rhetoric has grown more and more hostile. Over the past two weeks, it has become overtly belligerent following the assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, Syria has been accused of being behind that assassination and large-scale demonstrations forced the Lebanese government to resign.

The Bush administration has spoken of a velvet revolution sweeping the region and many analysts believe the next front will be in Syria. President Bush and his emissaries are focusing in on demands for Syria to withdraw its more than 14,000 troops and intelligence services from Lebanon. This week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice issued what many see as a series of threats against Damascus, as she visited London. Here is some of what she had to say.

  • Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State, March 1, 2005.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice speaking earlier this week in London. President Bush also addressed Syria during a speech yesterday in Maryland.

  • President Bush, March 2, 2005.

We turn now to a perspective seldom, if ever, heard in the hours and hours of coverage of the threats against Syria and that is the perspective of Syrians who are not government officials.

  • Haythem al-Maleh, one of the leading human rights lawyers in Syria. He is on the line from Damascus.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice issued what many see as a series of threats against Damascus, as she visited London. Here’s some of what she had to say.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: What is being exposed is that Syria is a barrier. Syrian policies and Syrian behavior are barriers to a better life and a more democratic future for the people of the Middle East. When the Syrians support insurgents or allow their territory to be used for insurgents, they are frustrating the aspirations of the Iraqi people. When the Syrians allow their troops and their security forces to operate in Lebanon, they are frustrating the aspirations of those Lebanese people who are in the streets in Lebanon. When the Syrians support from their territory and with their activities terrorist groups who carry out bombings in the holy land, they are frustrating the aspirations of the Palestinian people. So the Syrians should not be allowed to change the subject. This is not about Syria and the United States. This is Syria frustrating the aspirations of people of the Middle East for a better and more democratic life.

AMY GOODMAN: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice speaking earlier this week in London. President Bush also addressed Syria during a speech yesterday in Maryland.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: First of all, freedom is on the march. It’s a — it’s a profound period of time. Our Secretary of State’s returning from her trip to Europe. I will visit with her tomorrow afternoon. I talked to her on the phone yesterday. I applauded the press conference she held with the — a foreign minister from France, where both of them stood up and said loud and clear to Syria: 'You get your troops and your secret services out of Lebanon, so that good democracy has a chance to flourish.'

The world is working together for the sake of freedom and peace. The world is speaking with one voice. When it comes to making sure that democracy has a chance to flourish in Lebanon and throughout the greater Middle East and when democracies take hold, the world becomes more peaceful. The world becomes a better place for our children and our grandchildren. So I look forward to continuing to work with friends and allies to advance freedom, not America’s freedom, but universal freedom, freedom granted by a higher being.

AMY GOODMAN: We now turn to a perspective seldom heard in the hours of coverage of Syria, and that is the perspective of Syrians who aren’t government officials. Our two guests are both Syrian human rights activists. They’re father and son. Haythem al-Maleh, is one of the leading human rights attorneys in Syria. He is on the line with us from Damascus. His son, Iyas al-Maleh, is a Syrian human rights activist based in Dallas, Texas. We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let’s go straight to Damascus. Haythem al-Maleh, as you listened to Condoleezza Rice and President Bush, can you respond? …. Haythem al-Maleh?

HAYTHEM AL-MALEH: I heard President Bush talking. They start?



AMY GOODMAN: Yes, go ahead.


AMY GOODMAN: Yes, you can go ahead.

HAYTHEM AL-MALEH: Alright. I listen — I listened to President Bush. The problem is in our country, we started in 1945 as democracy regime, but the United States Embassy created a dictatorship in our area, in our country. The first military power was created by your embassy in Damascus. It continued since 1949 'til now, under several kinds of military dictatorship power. And now, exactly since beginning of 1963, ’til now, more than 42 years, we are under a case of emergency law. Under this emergency law, any law can be stopped. So, we are under heavy pressure of our government, of our regime. But, in next hand, we do not trust the regime of America that they want to help us in the direction of democracy. Because we believe that America as a power, only they believe in force. They do not believe in politics. For that, they came to Iraq out of legal, out of United Nations agreement. How I can believe that the superpower now in the world can be help or is going to help any country for democracy, not for their income or for their interests? We believe here in Syria that America came to Iraq and to Afghanistan not to fight against terrorists, as they said; they want to be in our area to rule the economy. They didn't — the world of — economic world, not to create the democracy. We are fighting, not now since a long time, we are fighting against the regime to change our life from dictator to freedom to democracy; but all the time past, the regime was helped from America, from the west. So, how we can believe now America — that America want to help us for changing our life to democracy? And we see now how Khadafi is a good man, even he’s still continue as military regime, as dictatorship power. We need to change our life. But if really America want to help us in this side, they can stop help the regime, or the dictatorship regime, in our area. This is very important. If they stop so we can thinking about this time.

AMY GOODMAN: Haythem al-Maleh, I wanted to ask, you were the attorney for Maher Arar, the Syrian-Canadian citizen who was, through a term we’ve only —

HAYTHEM AL-MALEH: The line — the line — repeat not be clear. The line not clear now.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask this question of Iyas al-Maleh your son, human rights activist in Dallas, Texas. Iyas, your father, the attorney for Maher Arar, the Syrian-Canadian, who we’ve learned this term "extraordinary rendition," sent to the — to Syria. When he arrived at Kennedy Airport. You could tell the story, but also the issue of what it means for the U.S. to attack Syria over its human rights record, but then send someone to the country who is then tortured?


HAYTHEM AL-MALEH: You give me the example what I need. What happened for Maher — Maher Arar is a shame. He being captured in J.F. Kennedy Airport in New York, and he’s sent to Syria, not to Canada, to be under torture for a year. And then he released without any proof, without anything. We have a new example now. Your — the American army catch a person, his name is [Yasser Tinawi]from Somalia. He has a shop there. He prepare Frigidaire and something like that for his family and his children. They catch him, take him to Ethiopia. He was under arrest 100 days for nothing. Then they take him to Cairo. They give him to the intelligence service in Egypt, and thus they send him back to Damascus. He gets two year sentences from field military court for nothing. He spent his time, his sentence in jail. He released for a month —- from a month. Now he being under arrest another time, yesterday. So, how I can explain this situation? They take this person from Somalia, send him back to Syria. They destroy his life. He has a shop. They destroy everything, his money. Now he has no job here in Syria . How I can say it, how I can understand that America is going to help in the side of human rights? I am activist in the side of human rights, not now, since 30 years. I spent seven years of my life in jail. Beginning of 1980 ’til last of 1986. I continue my way when I released. Until now I am fighting for protect my people here in Syria. I want to be sure that the Syrian person cannot be in jail for nothing. Now -—

AMY GOODMAN: Haythem al-Maleh, we have to wrap right now. We have to end the show. But I want to ask you, in Damascus, as well as your son, Iyas al-Maleh, if you can rejoin us tomorrow for an extended discussion about the situation in Syria. How rarely we hear the voices of Syrian citizens talking about their own country, especially those both who have been imprisoned there. Thank you very much for joining us.

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