In the late 1980s, I was the first western journalist allowed into the world’s most dreaded prison, Moscow’s sinister Lubyanka. Muscovites dared not even utter the name of KGB’s headquarters, calling it instead after a nearby toy store, “Detsky Mir.”
I still shudder recalling Lubyanka’s underground cells, grim interrogation rooms, and execution cellars where tens of thousands were tortured and shot. I sat at the desk from which the monsters who ran Cheka (Soviet secret police) — Dzerzhinsky, Yagoda, Yezhov, Beria — ordered 30 million victims to their deaths.
Prisoners taken in the dead of night to Lubyanka were systematically beaten for days with rubber hoses and clubs. There were special cold rooms where prisoners could be frozen to near death. Sleep deprivation was a favourite and most effective Cheka technique. So was near-drowning in water fouled with urine and feces.
I recall these past horrors because of what this column has long called the gradual “Sovietization” of the United States. This shameful week, it became clear Canada is also afflicted.
We have seen America’s president and vice president, sworn to uphold the Constitution, advocating some of the same interrogation techniques the KGB used at the Lubyanka. They apparently believe beating, freezing, sleep deprivation and near-drowning are necessary to prevent terrorist attacks. So did Stalin.
The White House insisted that anyone — including Americans — could be kidnapped and tried in camera using “evidence” obtained by torturing other suspects. Bush & Co. deny the U.S. uses torture but reject the basic law of habeaus corpus and U.S. laws against the evil practice. The UN says Bush’s plans violate international law and the Geneva Conventions.
This week’s tentative agreement between Bush and Congress may somewhat limit torture, but exempts U.S. officials from having to observe the Geneva Convention.
Canadians had a shocking view of similar creeping totalitarianism as the full horror of Maher Arar’s persecution was revealed. Thanks to false information from the RCMP, the U.S. arrested a Canadian citizen and sent him to Syria. Arab states and Pakistan were being used by the Bush administration for outsourced torture. Syria denies the charges.
Suspects were kidnapped by the U.S., often on the basis of faulty information or lies, then sent to Arab states to be tortured until they confessed. The apparent objective of this “rendition” program? To find a few kernels of useful information. The Cheka and East Germany’s Stasi used the same practice.
I never thought I’d see the United States — champion of human rights and rule of law — legislating torture and Soviet-style kangaroo tribunals. I never thought I’d see Congress and a majority of Americans supporting such police state measures. Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln must be turning in their graves.
To me, Canada has always been a haven of moderation, decency, and rule of law — until the Maher Arar affair shockingly showed this country could also quickly fall into police state behaviour.
Arar’s despicable treatment by Canada and the U.S. was the result of a U.S. witch hunt, plus anti-Muslim racism, stupidity, bureaucratic cowardice and incompetence.
We saw Ottawa aiding the outrageous persecution of its citizens, and the U.S. shamefully refusing to aid the Arar inquiry.
Former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, who authorized Arar’s arrest, should face justice for this and many other malfeasances. The current U.S. Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, who denied the Bush administration was responsible for Arar’s abduction and torture, should be ashamed.
Canada must demand a thorough U.S. investigation, apology, and guarantee Canadians will never again become victims of such state-run criminal activity. It’s time for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to advise his new best friends in Washington that Canada is not a banana republic.
Officials directly involved in the most sordid, disgraceful case in Canada’s modern history, must face justice. They are as much guilty as the torturers who beat Maher Arar mercilessly for 10 months.