Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 31, 2011

Monthly Review and Syria

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 2:04 pm

From MRZine:

Millions of Syrians Rally for Syria and Bashar

Millions of Syrians rallied all over Syria, pledging loyalty to the country, in support of Bashar al-Assad, on 29 March 2011.  The dialectic of the regime and the opposition in Syria, it is safe to say, is neither like Tunisia and Egypt, nor like Iraq and Libya.  Instead, it is more like what happened in the Islamic Republic of Iran, 2009-2010.  There are many differences between Syria and Iran, however: E.g., in Syria, the opposition so far is the strongest in Dera’a, a small southwestern city near the border with Jordan, whereas the opposition in Iran was clearly the strongest in northern Tehran.  While most Iranian secularists (except a few Marxists) put their faith in the opposition in Iran, most Syrian secularists, as well as religious minorities such as Christians, appear to fear the opposition — especially the suspected influence, and potential rise, of the Muslim Brotherhood — in Syria.  And then there is a gender factor.  Alone among the Arab regimes that have faced protests since last December, the Syrian Ba’ath regime has put forward women — presidential advisor Bouthaina Shaaban and Information Ministry spokeswoman Reem Haddad — as its faces and voices on the Arab and international media.  Moreover, the president of Syria has a weapon in the obligatory media war accompanying any protest in a geopolitical hotspot these days, which neither any other Arab regime nor the Islamic Republic of Iran can claim: his undeniably charming wife Asma.  Perhaps not altogether inconsequential in the age of celebrities.

* * * *

NY Times February 20, 2006
Op-Ed Columnist

The Torturers Win


Justice? Surely you jest.

Terrible things were done to Maher Arar, and his extreme suffering was set in motion by the United States government. With the awful facts of his case carefully documented, he tried to sue for damages. But last week a federal judge waved the facts aside and told Mr. Arar, in effect, to get lost.

We’re in a new world now and the all-powerful U.S. government apparently has free rein to ruin innocent lives without even a nod in the direction of due process or fair play. Mr. Arar, a Canadian citizen who, according to all evidence, has led an exemplary life, was seized and shackled by U.S. authorities at Kennedy Airport in 2002, and then shipped off to Syria, his native country, where he was held in a dungeon for the better part of a year. He was tormented physically and psychologically, and at times tortured.

The underground cell was tiny, about the size of a grave. According to court papers, “The cell was damp and cold, contained very little light and was infested with rats, which would enter the cell through a small aperture in the ceiling. Cats would urinate on Arar through the aperture, and sanitary facilities were nonexistent.”

Mr. Arar’s captors beat him savagely with an electrical cable. He was allowed to bathe in cold water once a week. He lost 40 pounds while in captivity.

This is a quintessential example of the reprehensible practice of extraordinary rendition, in which the U.S. government kidnaps individuals — presumably terror suspects — and sends them off to regimes that are skilled in the fine art of torture. In terms of vile behavior, rendition stands shoulder to shoulder with contract killing.

If the United States is going to torture people, we might as well do it ourselves. Outsourcing torture does not make it any more acceptable.

Mr. Arar’s case became a world-class embarrassment when even Syria’s torture professionals could elicit no evidence that he was in any way involved in terrorism. After 10 months, he was released. No charges were ever filed against him.

Mr. Arar is a 35-year-old software engineer who lives in Ottawa with his wife and their two young children. He’s never been in any kind of trouble. Commenting on the case in a local newspaper, a former Canadian official dryly observed that “accidents will happen” in the war on terror. The Center for Constitutional Rights in New York filed a lawsuit on Mr. Arar’s behalf, seeking damages from the U.S. government for his ordeal. The government said the case could not even be dealt with because the litigation would involve the revelation of state secrets.

In other words, it wouldn’t matter how hideously or egregiously Mr. Arar had been treated, or how illegally or disgustingly the government had behaved. The case would have to be dropped. Inquiries into this 21st-century Inquisition cannot be tolerated. Its activities must remain secret at all costs.

In a ruling that basically gave the green light to government barbarism, U.S. District Judge David Trager dismissed Mr. Arar’s lawsuit last Thursday. Judge Trager wrote in his opinion that “Arar’s claim that he faced a likelihood of torture in Syria is supported by U.S. State Department reports on Syria’s human rights practices.”

But in dismissing the suit, he said that the foreign policy and national security issues raised by the government were “compelling” and that such matters were the purview of the executive branch and Congress, not the courts.

He also said that “the need for secrecy can hardly be doubted.”

Under that reasoning, of course, the government could literally get away with murder. With its bad actions cloaked in court-sanctioned secrecy, no one would be the wiser.

As an example of the kind of foreign policy problems that might arise if Mr. Arar were given his day in court, Judge Trager wrote:

“One need not have much imagination to contemplate the negative effect on our relations with Canada if discovery were to proceed in this case and were it to turn out that certain high Canadian officials had, despite public denials, acquiesced in Arar’s removal to Syria.”

Oh yes, by all means, we need the federal courts to fully protect the right of public officials to lie to their constituents.

“It’s a shocking decision,” said Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights. “It’s really saying that an individual who is sent overseas for the purpose of being tortured has no claim in a U.S. court.”

If kidnapping and torturing an innocent man is O.K., what’s not O.K.?


  1. As a Canadian of Iranian descent I followed this case directly. People like me could’ve been in Arar’s place. The RCMP in Canada actually passed Arar’s ‘dossier’ to the CIA, so the Americans weren’t the only ones with dirty hands in that whole affair. Yes, MRZine has become frankly pathetic, its editor running the site like it was her own personal blog. Don’t the publishers of the magazine, Foster and others, owe their readers at least an explanation of position? I’m not necessarily against specific analysis of each case; Syria is different and there are those in for instance ethnic minorities like the Armenians who are frankly grateful for Assad family’s secular benevolence, but the regime as a whole is corrupt, undemocratic and is run like a crime family. You can’t defend regimes such as this forever. All they actually do is ultimately pave the way for the most retrograde elements in the society.

    Comment by Mazdak — March 31, 2011 @ 4:08 pm

  2. Bashar’s snipers are shooting people down in the streets of Latakia (his hometown) and elsewhere, and MRZine talks about his “undeniably charming wife Asma. Perhaps not altogether inconsequential in the age of celebrities.” Thus good Red MONTHLY REVIEW of the olden days morphs into VOGUE.

    I don’t know what’s more pathetic: invoking Asma in the first place, or the pathetic quasi-British (“perhaps not altogether”) syntax in which Yoshie tries to deny having made the argument.

    Feh and farewell.

    Comment by Jim Holstun — March 31, 2011 @ 9:29 pm

  3. To compare Syria to Iran, in 2009 or any time, is downright silly. It’s just the sort of thing someone in an office thousands of miles away from both countries would do. The 73 million Iranians are mainly Persians and live on a landmass as large as Libya. Syria is an Arab country as small as Tunisia with 17 million inhabitants. In 2009 Iran was in the grip of a numerically strong party. Syria has a minority regime. The West and Israel have declared Iran their enemy of choice and threaten to attack it. Syria’s leader has reached a status quo with Israel over the heads of his people. The Israeli position speaks clearly. Tel Aviv could very well bomb Iran, but they would rather have Assad running Syria than anyone else save NATO. A high figure of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt told the BBC this morning that he would work democratically to dismantle the treaty with Israel. The Brotherhood in Syria would surely do the same. Furthermore, Iran has no cute little first lady and so the MRzine thinker has no one he can compare with Asma.
    Mazdak, who I’m sure knows more about all this than MRzine and myself together, shouldn’t be surprised that the Armenians are grateful to Assad. All the minorities support him. His tolerance is dictated by the fact his Alawite tribe is a minority, though one with elite pretensions. Yesterday all the Orthodox priests were out cheering for Assad. As far as torture goes, the real question is which country doesn’t do it. Those who can’t get away with it easily at home, like the USA, subcontract the work out to Syria and a dozen other willing partners.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — March 31, 2011 @ 11:35 pm

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