Bob Herbert's column today makes me wonder just how far we've strayed as a people that this is even an option. It's behind the Times Select wall, so I'll excerpt it from Proquest.

He's talking about the case of Maher Arar, the Canadian citizen who was kidnapped by the US government, shipped off to Syria (under the despicable practice known as extraordinary rendition, which is a stain on the US) where he was tortured for ten months.

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 person had no connection with al Qaeda.

Now even if you accept extraordinary rendition as a necessary evil in this day and age of global terrorism (I don't), there should be no question that in an egregious case, where an innocent man has his life irrevocably changed, that there should be some form of recompense, some attempt to at least try to make him whole again.

Not in the US.

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."

This is what we have become--a country that values secrecy over human decency.

I remember very clearly the days and months after the 9/11 attacks, how often the phrase "if we do such-and-so, the terrorists will have won." It quickly became a joke. It morphed into a college pick-up line--"If you don't come back to my dorm room with me, the terrorists will have won"--and national economic strategy--"if you don't go into unsustainable credit card debt for Christmas, the terrorists will have won."

But it's not a joke anymore. The terrorists have won. And Maher Arar is the proof.

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