Mr. President, the CIA Is Already Talking to Syria

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President Bush has decided that the U.S. government is now going to talk to Syria. The reason the president has steadfastly refused to talk to Syria before now is that Syria, he has repeatedly emphasized, is a state sponsor of terrorism.

There is one part of all this, however, that is quite befuddling: The U.S. government has already been talking to Syria, at least if the CIA is still considered part of the U.S. government.

If you don’t believe me, just ask Maher Arar. He is the Canadian citizen who was kidnapped by U.S. officials while changing planes in New York on an international flight back to Canada, his country of citizenship. After U.S. officials accused Arar of being a terrorist, the CIA forcibly boarded him onto one of its “rendition” planes and flew him to be tortured in — Syria. Yes, Syria! That’s the country that President Bush has repeatedly said that the U.S. government would not talk to because it is a state sponsor of terrorism!

Why did the CIA deliver Arar to Syria, instead of, say, France? Because Syrian officials are renowned for being excellent torturers, which shouldn’t be too surprising, given that they are also renowned for being excellent terrorists. Who better to torture someone than a state sponsor of terrorism?

You’ve probably already grasped my point: In order to make the arrangements to have Arar tortured to get information from him, CIA officials had to have talked to Syrian officials. Those talks had to have encompassed discussions about torturing Arar and how information acquired from him would be transmitted back to U.S. officials. After all, it’s not as though the CIA would have just flown into Syrian airspace without permission, dropped off a complete stranger at the Syrian airport, and said goodbye. No, there had to be detailed discussions between certain officials of the CIA and certain officials of the Syrian government.

But how does something like this happen? Doesn’t it almost defy credulity? Why, here you have a regime that the president repeatedly condemns as a state sponsor of terrorism and with whom the U.S. government simply is not going to communicate. Meanwhile, CIA officials, somehow or other, cut a deal with Syrian officials to torture a citizen of Canada on behalf of the U.S. government.

Who were those Syrian officials who cut the torture deal with the CIA? Were there negotiations over which torture techniques would be used? Waterboarding? Electric shocks to the genitals? Forced nudity? Isolation and sensory deprivation? What did the Syrian government get out of the deal? Was it paid for its services and, if so, in what form? Was the contract put into writing? Did CIA officials monitor performance of the contract? How much information was acquired and how was it transmitted from Syria to the CIA? Did President Bush approve the deal?

Unfortunately, we don’t know the answers to any of those questions because the mainstream press has simply chosen not to ask them. Wouldn’t you think that just one reporter would ask, “Mr. President, how can you say that you haven’t been talking to Syria when in fact your CIA officials obviously talked to Syria when they cut their torture deal regarding Maher Arar?”

Better yet, what would be wrong with a full investigation by Congress into the kidnapping, rendition, and torture of Maher Arar, who, by the way, was ultimately exonerated of any involvement in terrorism? It could begin by subpoenaing every CIA official involved in the matter, who could be required to describe under oath in a public hearing all the details of the torture agreement that was cut with a terrorist regime with whom President Bush has, until now, supposedly refused to communicate.

Now that President Bush is talking to Syria, wouldn’t it be a good idea if he and the CIA talked to the American people about the deal they cut with Syria to torture Maher Arar?

March 5, 2007

Jacob Hornberger [send him mail] is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He will be among the 22 speakers at FFF’s upcoming conference on June 1—4 in Reston, Virginia: u201CRestoring the Constitution: Foreign Policy and Civil Liberties.u201D

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