Friday, March 11, 2011

Maher Arar Talks About Assange and WikiLeaks

By Jerry Smith Mar 11 2011

Dual Syrian and Canadian citizen Maher Arar talks about Julian Assange and WikiLeaks during an interview. Arar was entangled in a famous case of “extraordinary rendition” that began at JFK Airport in September 2001 as Arar was on his way home to Canada from visiting Tunis.

Arar was held without charges in solitary confinement in the United States for nearly two weeks, questioned, and denied access to a lawyer.

The US government suspected him of being a member of Al Qaeda and deported him to Syria. He was tortured in Syria for a year until he was released to Canada.

The Government of Canada later settled out of court with Arar and awarded him a settlement of CDN $10.5 million.

Here are some excerpts of the interview Maher Arar did with Anthony Jenkins of the Globe and Mail about Assange and WikiLeaks.

Jenkins: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been labelled a “hero,” a “terrorist” and a “provocateur.” How would you characterize him?

Arar: He is someone who is trying to do things differently, given the oversecrecy atmosphere we have been living in after 9/11. He is trying to introduce a new form of journalism. I wouldn’t call him a hero, I wouldn’t call him a villain. I think maybe we should invent a new term for him.

Jenkins: Governments have attacked Mr. Assange, attacked his character, attacked his Wikileaks income. Do you fear for his personal well-being?

Arar: Well, the CIA could do anything. Everything is possible, but I really doubt the U.S. would embark on a physical elimination of Assange.

Jenkins: Has government overreliance on secrecy created WikiLeaks?

Arar: I’m not saying WikiLeaks wouldn’t have existed if governments kept doing business the usual way, but they did give an incentive. Every time you say “secret,” people want to know about it. It is natural. People want to know what is happening behind closed doors. I’m not against secrecy. It is understandable that governments have to keep things secret, but, in a democracy, that should be the exception, not the rule.

Jenkins: Mr. Assange is quoted as saying he has an “insurance policy” against physical harm, imprisonment or a debilitating attack on WikiLeaks – the release of an encrypted “key” to a “thermonuclear device” of new, damaging documents in retribution. Has he gone too far?

Arar: Assange is fighting against a system. I have my own personal experience of this. It is not easy. Whether he is justified in this or whether he is going to do it or not, he is using what he has. There is a vacuum to be filled. The governments leave this for others to fill, and the results can be unpredictable, like we are seeing with WikiLeaks.

Jenkins: Might WikiLeaks’ massive dump of information have the reverse effect and increase government secrecy rather than lessen it?

Arar: I think it is having the opposite effect. There are now other websites starting. Every time governments have done that, it has always backfired.

For the full interview go here

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