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Testimonies from the Voices the Syrian State is Trying to Silence

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NEIL SAMMONDS: Yes. You know, thanks to kind of trusted human rights activists in the country, I mean, we have 82 names. That's until--that was three days ago, it was 82, you know, 16 and below. And amongst those, we have even five who appear to have been tortured to death--most shocking cases. And I've, you know, had some mixed [inaudible], and on a--you know, looking at a number of the videos of these people's bodies after they've been returned to their families, and, you know, with like their heads beaten to pulps and broken bones and bullet wounds, skin scraped across, perhaps from, you know, acid or something--it's difficult to say--electrolysis. You know, and this is to children. I mean, how far does a regime go to try to terrify its people into stopping to pressure for change? It's astonishing. But really quite inspiring, as well, of course, that the Syrian people are continuing to go into the streets and to demand their legitimate rights, even though they know they may get a bullet in the head.

AMY GOODMAN: Neil Sammonds, I want to thank you for being with us on the Syria-Turkish border, on the Turkish side, there for Amnesty International, joining us from Guvecci, a Turkish border village. And thank you to Razan Zaitouneh, a lawyer and human rights activist in Damascus, Syria, who risks a great deal as she reports on the recent protests.

This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, we turn to a Canadian citizen who was tortured in Syria--not now, well, almost a decade ago. He was sent to Syria by the U.S. government. He was a victim of extraordinary rendition. He'll talk about the situation today and then. Stay with us.

Democracy Now!'s interview with Maher :

Rush Transcript of above interview:

AMY GOODMAN: As we continue on the issue of Syria, we're joined by Maher Arar, a former victim of U.S. rendition, now a human rights activist in Canada. Maher Arar was seized in New York's Kennedy Airport in September of 2002, and he was sent to Syria, where he was tortured and interrogated in a tiny underground cell for more than 10 months. He ultimately was returned to Canada. The Canadian government awarded him $10 million for what he went through. Maher Arar joins us now from Ottawa, Canada.

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Welcome to Democracy Now!, Maher. Talk about, first, what happened to you. This isn't now, during this current uprising; this was during the Bush government--but how you feel it relates to the--what's happening in Syria today.

MAHER ARAR: Basically, my experience allows me to relate to what is happening right now, in terms of the massive human rights abuses, whether it's torture or atrocity, you know, crimes committed against civilians. I know firsthand how brutal this regime could be. But again, what is unique in my case, as compared to what is happening in Syria right now, is I was sent to Syria by the supposedly democratic government. The U.S. government sent me there against my will in 2002.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, for people who are not familiar with your story--and people can go to, because we have chronicled your story since you were captured by the--well, I shouldn't say "captured," because you were at Kennedy Airport transiting through to Canada after a family vacation. But briefly explain what happened to you.

MAHER ARAR: Well, basically, I was transiting in New York on my way to Montreal, and I was stopped by the New York police, and eventually the FBI showed up. I was interrogated for about 10 hours, almost until midnight. And then I was chained and shackled. I was not read my rights. I was told I didn't have a right to a lawyer. And I was eventually accused of being a member of al-Qaeda, based on classified information that they did not want to share with me. Of course, today we know what information that is, because there was an extensive inquiry in Canada, which cleared my name and gave some facts about what happened. And then I was kept at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, New York, for about 10 days, after which I was bundled on a private jet to Jordan, from where I was transported to Syria and eventually psychologically and physically tortured.

I stayed in Syria, most of my time, in an underground cell which is the size of a coffin, basically. It's about three feet wide, six feet high and about seven feet deep. It was a filthy place. It was dark. It's basically--that's why I always refer to it as a grave-like cell, because it reminds you of really a grave.

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And I was eventually released and--because my wife had gone on a public campaign and pressured and lobbied the Canadian government to press for my release. And eventually there was an inquiry in Canada. There was a huge outrage, public outrage, here about what happened to me. And the inquiry took about three years, and reporters reported about what happened. I was eventually, you know, cleared. And the Canadian government was blamed for sending false information to their U.S. counterparts.

AMY GOODMAN: And you were awarded over $10 million by the Harper government, a Bush ally--

MAHER ARAR: Correct.

AMY GOODMAN:--which is extremely interesting here, although the U.S. government has never apologized for what happened to you.

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I am a student of history, religion, exoteric and esoteric, the Humanities in general and a tempered advocate for the ultimate manifestation of peace, justice and the unity of humankind through self-realization and mutual respect, although I am not (more...)

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