Warning... this film could make you angry
By Robert Fisk
Independent" --- - At university, we male students
used to say that it was impossible to take a beautiful young
woman to the cinema and concentrate on the film. But in Canada,
I've at last proved this to be untrue. Familiar with the Middle
East and its abuses – and with the vicious policies of George
Bush – we both sat absorbed by Rendition, Gavin Hood's powerful,
appalling testimony of the torture of a "terrorist suspect" in
an unidentified Arab capital after he was shipped there by CIA
thugs in Washington.
Why did an Arab "terrorist" telephone an Egyptian chemical
engineer – holder of a green card and living in Chicago with a
pregnant American wife while he was attending an international
conference in Johannesburg? Did he have knowledge of how to make
bombs? (Unfortunately, yes – he was a chemical engineer – but
the phone calls were mistakenly made to his number.)
He steps off his plane at Dulles International Airport and is
immediately shipped off on a CIA jet to what looks suspiciously
like Morocco – where, of course, the local cops don't pussyfoot
about Queensberry rules during interrogation. A CIA operative
from the local US embassy – played by a nervous Jake Gyllenhaal
– has to witness the captive's torture while his wife pleads
with congressmen in Washington to find him.
The Arab interrogator – who starts with muttered questions to
the naked Egyptian in an underground prison – works his way up
from beatings to a "black hole", to the notorious "waterboarding"
and then to electricity charges through the captive's body. The
senior Muhabarat questioner is, in fact, played by an Israeli
and was so good that when he demanded to know how the al-Jazeera
channel got exclusive footage of a suicide bombing before his
own cops, my companion and I burst into laughter.
Well, suffice it to say that the CIA guy turns soft, rightly
believes the Egyptian is innocent, forces his release by the
local minister of interior, while the senior interrogator loses
his daughter in the suicide bombing – there is a mind-numbing
reversal of time sequences so that the bomb explodes both at the
start and at the end of the film – while Meryl Streep as the
catty, uncaring CIA boss is exposed for her wrong-doing. Not
Well, think again. For in Canada lives Maher Arar, a totally
harmless software engineer – originally from Damascus – who was
picked up at JFK airport in New York and underwent an almost
identical "rendition" to the fictional Egyptian in the movie.
Suspected of being a member of al-Qa'ida – the Canadian Mounties
had a hand in passing on this nonsense to the FBI – he was put
on a CIA plane to Syria where he was held in an underground
prison and tortured. The Canadian government later awarded Arar
$10m in compensation and he received a public apology from Prime
Minister Stephen Harper.
But Bush's thugs didn't get fazed like Streep's CIA boss. They
still claim that Arar is a "terrorist suspect"; which is why,
when he testified to a special US congressional meeting on 18
October, he had to appear on a giant video screen in Washington.
He's still, you see, not allowed to enter the US. Personally,
I'd stay in Canada – in case the FBI decided to ship him back to
Syria for another round of torture. But save for the US
congressmen – "let me personally give you what our government
has not: an apology," Democratic congressman Bill Delahunt said
humbly – there hasn't been a whimper from the Bush
Even worse, it refused to reveal the "secret evidence" which it
claimed it had on Arar – until the Canadian press got its claws
on these "secret" papers and discovered they were hearsay
evidence of an Arar visit to Afghanistan from an Arab prisoner
in Minneapolis, Mohamed Elzahabi, whose brother, according to
Arar, once repaired Arar's car in Montreal.
There was a lovely quote from America's Homeland Security
secretary Michael Chertoff and Alberto Gonzales, the US attorney
general at the time, that the evidence again Arar was "supported
by information developed by US law enforcement agencies". Don't
you just love that word "developed"? Doesn't it smell rotten?
Doesn't it mean "fabricated"?
And what, one wonders, were Bush's toughs doing sending Arar off
to Syria, a country that they themselves claim to be a
"terrorist" state which supports "terrorist" organisations like
Hizbollah. President Bush, it seems, wants to threaten Damascus,
but is happy to rely on his brutal Syrian chums if they'll be
obliging enough to plug in the electricity and attach the wires
in an underground prison on Washington's behalf.
But then again, what can you expect of a president whose nominee
for Alberto Gonzales's old job of attorney general, Michael
Mukasey, tells senators that he doesn't "know what is involved"
in the near-drowning "waterboarding" torture used by US forces
during interrogations. "If waterboarding is torture, torture is
not constitutional," the luckless Mukasey bleated.
Yes, and I suppose if electric shocks to the body constitute
torture – if, mind you – that would be unconstitutional. Right?
The New York Times readers at least spotted the immorality of
Mukasey's remarks. A former US assistant attorney asked "how the
United States could hope to regain its position as a respected
world leader on the great issues of human rights if its chief
law enforcement officer cannot even bring himself to acknowledge
the undeniable verity that waterboarding constitutes
torture...". As another reader pointed out, "Like pornography,
torture doesn't require a definition."
Yet all is not lost for the torture lovers in America. Here's
what Republican senator Arlen Spector – a firm friend of Israel
– had to say about Mukasey's shameful remarks: "We're glad to
see somebody who is strong, with a strong record, take over this
So is truth stranger than fiction? Or is Hollywood waking up –
after Syriana and Munich – to the gross injustices of the Middle
East and the shameless and illegal policies of the US in the
region? Go and see Rendition – it will make you angry – and
remember Arar. And you can take a beautiful woman along to share
© 2007 Independent News and Media Limited
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