MAHER ARAR: That is correct. I was--I launched a lawsuit upon my return, both in Canada and the U.S., separate lawsuits. The Canadian government chose to settle the lawsuit immediately after the inquiry. Unfortunately, the U.S. judicial system has been not very understanding and has been siding--or has sided with the U.S. government and took the U.S. government arguments, despite all the public information that exists today about what happened to me. And on top of that, the Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, apologized to myself and my family for what happened to us, even though the Canadian government role, when compared to the U.S. role, is really minor, in my opinion.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, this is very relevant to today, because I think most people would say the U.S. has not been an ally of Syria. And yet, in your case, it worked with Syria, though you said if they thought you were guilty of a crime, when you were taken from JFK, let them deport you to Canada, where you were a citizen, and let them try you. They actually sent you to Syria.
MAHER ARAR: Well, let me emphasize here, my case is probably unique in the sense that I was the only Syrian-born Canadian who was sent or renditioned to Syria from U.S. soil. But let me be clear here, there were many victims of rendition of Syrian origin who actually were rendered from Pakistan and other places to Syria. Now, why the--and let me also say that when the American government sent me to Syria, they knew exactly what they were doing. In fact, I can vividly remember what an ex-CIA agent said around 2004 about the rendition program. He basically something said like--if I remember correctly, his is name is Robert Baer. He said, "If you want people to be well interrogated, you send them to Jordan. If you want people to be disappeared, you send them to Egypt. And if you want people to be tortured, you send them to Syria." And that's exactly what ended up happening. So what this basically says is that whoever took the decision to send me to Syria, they knew, or they basically wanted me to be tortured in order to extract information, what we call today "torture by proxy."
AMY GOODMAN: That was Robert Baer, the ex-CIA agent. So, what do you think this means about the U.S. relationship with Syria today, how much sway the U.S. has, what the U.S. should be doing right now? We just got reports from Damascus and from the border, Amnesty describing this as a scorched earth policy against--well, against the Syrian government's own people, that the Syrian government, that Bashar al-Assad, is engaging in right now.
MAHER ARAR: Well, the U.S. government has a huge responsibility for a simple reason. The cooperation with the Syrian government, as well as other dictatorships in the Middle East post-9/11, gave some kind of legitimacy to those dictatorships. And it is now--the prime responsibility of the U.S. government is to put the pressure on the Syrian government.
For instance, two things that the U.S. government can do right now. First of all, they have to declare this regime to be illegitimate, and they have forfeited their right to rule. Second, I think they have to press--and we're here in Canada doing this, I mean, human rights activists and myself are actually pushing our government here to take a lead to refer this matter to the International Criminal Court.
Right now, the international community, including the U.S., is using very soft language, in my opinion. And imposing sanctions on some elements within the regime will not put much pressure. I think what needs to be done right now is to declare this regime to be illegitimate and also to refer this matter to the International Criminal Court as soon as possible. And that, in my opinion, will make a huge difference in terms of putting pressure on the regime.
AMY GOODMAN: Maher Arar, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Again, he was the victim of U.S. extraordinary rendition. He was seized at Kennedy Airport, sent to Syria in 2002, where he was held in a tiny underground cell for almost a year. He was tortured, physically, psychologically. Ultimately, the Canadian government awarded him more than $10 million. He now continues to live in Canada with his family. His wife ran for public office, where Maher Arar is a human rights advocate today.