Hume uncritically reported Gonzales's dubious defense of Arar rendition to Syria

››› ››› RAPHAEL SCHWEBER-KOREN

Brit Hume uncritically reported Alberto Gonzales's defense of the Bush administration's alleged decision to send a Canadian-Syrian citizen to Syria, where he was tortured and falsely confessed to terrorist affiliations, as documented in a recently released Canadian judicial report. Hume failed to note that Syria reportedly has a history of using torture.

On the September 19 edition of Fox News' Special Report, Fox News Washington managing editor Brit Hume uncritically reported Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales's defense of the Bush administration's alleged decision to send Canadian-Syrian citizen Maher Arar to Syria, where he was tortured and falsely confessed to terrorist affiliations, as documented in a Canadian judicial report that was released on September 18. According to Hume, Gonzales claimed that he was "not aware that Arar had been tortured" and that, if the United States had "rendered" Arar to Syria -- initially suggesting that the United States may not have been responsible for Arar's being sent to Syria -- it had received assurances from the Syrian government that Arar would not be tortured. However, Hume neglected to mention that Syria's reputation for using torture in interrogations was already well known, as documented by the State Department's Human Rights reports, or that the Canadian inquiry noted such assurances often have little credibility.

According to the Canadian "Arar Commission" inquiry, Arar's saga began on September 26, 2002, when, based on information provided by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), Arar was detained by U.S. officials at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City. The inquiry found that the RCMP neither requested nor anticipated Arar's detention by the American government. U.S. authorities -- after reportedly ascertaining that Canada would be unable to detain Arar further -- subsequently sent him to Syria on October 9, 2002, in a practice known as "rendition." During the first few weeks of his imprisonment, Syrian Military Intelligence (SMI) reportedly tortured Arar, beating him with a "black cable"; by November 2002, he had confessed to receiving terrorist training in Afghanistan in 1993 even though this was untrue. SMI held Arar until early October 2003, in what the inquiry called "abysmal" and "atrocious" conditions; eventually SMI released Arar to Canadian diplomats. Neither Canadian nor Syrian officials ever charged Arar with a crime, and the inquiry found that "that there is no evidence to indicate that Mr. Arar has committed any offence or that his activities constitute a threat to the security of Canada."

Hume, in his brief report on the inquiry's report, stated that "Arar is demanding an apology from the U.S., but Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said today he was not aware that Arar was tortured." Hume then uncritically reported Gonzales's statement that, when "rendering" someone "to another country ... we seek to satisfy ourselves that they will not be ... tortured. ... [I]f, in fact, [Arar] had been rendered to Syria, we would have sought those same kinds of assurances, as we do in every case."

Gonzales's defense that the administration would have received such assurances from Syria is undermined by a State Department Human Rights report on Syria released months before Arar was rendered there. According to the State Department's 2001 Syria report, issued on March 4, 2002, "there was credible evidence that security forces continued to use torture." The report continued, stating that "torture is most likely to occur while detainees are being held at one of the many detention centers run by the various security services throughout the country, and particularly while the authorities are attempting to extract a confession or information regarding an alleged crime or alleged accomplices." The Arar Commission, citing the State Department's substantially similar 2002 and 2003 reports, stated that "[w]hen Mr. Arar arrived in Syria in October 2002, Syria had a well-established reputation for committing serious human rights abuses."

The Arar Commission also stated that, according to testimony from Human Rights Watch, "diplomatic assurances from totalitarian regimes that they will not torture detainees are of no value and should not be relied upon for the purposes of article 3 of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment." That article prohibits countries from "return[ing]" or "extradit[ing]" a person to "another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture." Newsweek senior editor Michael Hirsh, appearing on the April 7, 2005, broadcast of National Public Radio's Talk of the Nation, reported that such assurances were understood to be window dressing. Host Neal Conan asked Hirsh if there was "anything to back the suspicion that this is all done with a wink and a nod, and everybody knows that that person is going to be tortured?" Hirsh replied: "Sources have told us, and I think other publications, that that's pretty much, you know, what happens. When you send someone to Syria or to Jordan or to Egypt, you're pretty well aware -- 'you' being the U.S. government -- of the kinds of interrogation practices that are used there, which are not in conformity with, certainly with U.S. law or with, you know, Geneva protections, [and] which often involve physical abuse."

In addition, an February 28, 2005, Newsweek report co-written by Hirsh, investigative correspondent Mark Hosenball, and John Barry stated that, subsequent to Arar's rendition, the administration had "grave second thoughts" and decided to stop sending suspects to Syria:

U.S. officials insist the CIA has stopped rendering suspects to countries where they believe torture occurs. NEWSWEEK has learned that shortly after a Canadian jihadi suspect of Syrian origin, Maher Arar, was shipped back to Syria in September 2002, officials began having grave second thoughts about rendering suspects to that nation. As a result, the administration made a secret decision to stop sending suspects to Syria. But officials acknowledge that such scruples are being ignored when it comes to rendering suspects to allies like Egypt and Jordan, even though some officials do not believe "assurances" from these nations that they were not mistreating prisoners.

According to a September 21 New York Times article, the Justice Department "backed away" on September 20 from Gonzales's claims that "we were not responsible for [Arar's] removal to Syria" and that Gonzales was "not aware that Arar had been tortured." The article states that, according to Justice Department spokesman Charles Miller, Gonzales "had intended to make only a narrow point: that deportations are now handled by the Department of Homeland Security, not the Department of Justice" but had "forgot[ten]" that the Department of Justice supervised immigration operations when Arar was detained and deported in late 2002. However, the Times added that when "[a]sked why Mr. Gonzales appeared to cast doubt on the Canadian finding that Mr. Arar had been tortured, Mr. Miller said, 'I wouldn't go beyond what he [Gonzales] said' " and that "Justice Department officials 'have not fully reviewed' the commission's report."

From the September 19 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:

HUME: A Canadian judicial report has found that American authorities transferred an innocent Canadian citizen to Syria, where he was tortured. This after Canadian intelligence officials gave the Americans bad information that the man was an Islamic extremist who should be put on the Al Qaeda watch list.

Maher Arar, a Muslim of Syrian descent, was detained for questioning in the U.S. in 2002 and transferred to Syria, where he was held for 10 months, beaten, he said, and forced to make false confessions.

The report finds the Canadian agents were improperly trained and did not anticipate the consequences of naming Arar without sufficient evidence.

Arar is demanding an apology from the U.S., but Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said today he was not aware that Arar was tortured.

GONZALES [video clip]: And we understand, as a government, what our obligations are with respect to anyone who's rendered by this government to another country. And that is that we seek to - we seek to satisfy ourselves that they will not be -- they will not be tortured. And we do that in every case and if, in fact, he had been rendered to Syria, we would have sought those same kinds of assurances, as we do in every case.

HUME: Next on Special Report, we'll have an update on efforts in Washington to resolve the differences over legislation defining how terror suspects may be treated and tried.

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