On Wednesday night, the Institute for Policy Studies presented its 30th Annual Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Awards in Washington DC. But one of the main award winners — extraordinary rendition victim Maher Arar — was unable to attend. He remains on the U.S. no-fly list even though his own government in Canada has publicly acknowledged he is an innocent man. We play Arar’s acceptance speech. [includes rush transcript]
On Wednesday night, the Institute for Policy Studies presented its 30th Annual Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Awards in Washington DC. But one of the main award winners — Maher Arar — was unable to attend. He remains on the U.S. no-fly list even though his own government in Canada has publicly acknowledged he is an innocent man.
Arar is the Canadian citizen who was abducted by U.S. officials at Kennedy airport in New York in 2002. He was then transported to a prison in Syria where he was held for 10 months and 10 days in a cell that resembled a grave. He was beaten, tortured and forced to make a false confession about having ties to Al Qaeda.
He was eventually released without charge. He became the first survivor of the U.S. government’s secret extraordinary rendition program to speak out. In September the Canadian government cleared his name and criticized the Bush administration for its actions.
At last night’s awards ceremony, a video message from Maher Arar was shown.
- Maher Arar. Videotaped acceptance speech to IPS Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Awards.
AMY GOODMAN: At last night’s awards ceremony, a video message from Maher Arar was shown.
MAHER ARAR: Hello, my name is Maher Arar. Sorry I could not join you for today’s ceremony. All CCR staff and I are humbled to have been chosen this year’s recipient of the Letelier-Moffitt International Human Rights Award. This award means a tremendous amount to us. It means that there are still Americans out there who value our struggle for justice. It means that there are Americans out there who are truly concerned about the future of America.
We now know that my story is not a unique one. Over the past two years, we have heard from many other people who have been kidnapped, unlawfully detained, tortured, and eventually released without being charged with any crime in any country.
My nightmare began on September 26, 2002. I was transiting through New York airport, JFK Airport, when they asked me to wait in a waiting area. I found that to be strange. Shortly after, some FBI officials came to see me, and they asked me whether I was willing to be interviewed. My first and immediate reaction was to ask for a lawyer, and I was surprised when they told me that I had no right to a lawyer because I was not an American citizen. Eventually, on October 8th, against my will, they took me out of my cell. They basically read a piece of document to me saying that "we will be sending you to Syria." And when I complained, I said to them, "I did explain to you that if I’m sent back, I will be tortured."
And I remember the INS person flipped a couple of pages in this document to the end of this document and read to me a paragraph that I still remember until today. It’s extremely shocking statement she made to me. She said something like, "The INS is not the body or the agency that signed the Geneva Convention Against Torture." For me, what that really meant is, "We will send you to torture, and we don’t care."
After 12 hours of detention, unlawful detention, in Jordan, I was eventually driven to Syria. And I just didn’t want to believe that I was going to Syria. I always was hoping that someone — a miracle would happen, the Canadian government would intervene, a miracle would happen that would take me back to my country, Canada. I arrived in Syria that same day at the end of the day, and I was able to confirm that I was, in fact, in Syria after my blindfold was removed and I was able to see the pictures of the Syrian president. My feeling then — my feeling then is, I just wanted to kill myself, because I knew what was coming. I knew that the Americans, the American government, sent me there to be tortured.
AMY GOODMAN: Maher Arar, in a video message last night, awarded the Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award in Washington, D.C., by the Institute for Policy Studies. He was awarded by Vanessa Redgrave. You can turn to our interview with her that we did yesterday on Democracy Now! at our website, democracynow.org. And we’ll put Maher Arar’s full video statement on our website, democracynow.org, as well.