November 21, 2005


A Tale of Extraordinary Renditions and Double-Standards: German Islamic extremist Mohammed Haydar Zammar has been locked in a dungeon in Damascus for the past four years as part of Washington's post-9/11 "extraordinary renditions" program. By placing the man with suspected ties to the Hamburg al-Qaida cell in Syrian hands, the United States is allowing Damascus to commit torture so that it doesn't have to. (Holger Stark, 11/21/05, Der Spiegel)

The dungeons of Far-Filastin, which means "Palestinian Division" in Arabic, were once reserved for Palestinian fedayeen fighters. Nowadays the underground cells house followers, real or suspected, of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. Mohammed Haydar Zammar, 44, is one of the latter.

Zammar's cell, cell 13, is reached by taking a left turn at the end of a long corridor. It's the third door after the bathroom. He's been held here for almost four years.

At least one thing is certain: he's alive. This was confirmed when the Red Cross received a call from Walid al-Muallim, Syria's deputy foreign minister. The message -- that the prisoner would be allowed to send and receive mail -- was a small miracle by Syrian standards. The Red Cross then forwarded a short note from Zammar's wife, who lives in Hamburg, to Zammar, and the prisoner was permitted to write a few sentences in response. Zammar's letter, including the salutation (Dear wife, dear children), amounts to all of 43 words on 7 lines. In handwriting as clumsy and crooked as that of a second-grader (after all, Zammar hasn't written anything in a long time), he writes: "I am healthy and I ask you to pray for me and forgive me. Your Haydar. Al-Salam alaikum."

The letter was the first official sign of life from Mohammed Haydar Zammar, a German citizen, since he was abducted weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. It was dated June 8, 2005 and marked Palestine Division, Damascus.

The news is good and bad. Zammar is alive. That's the good news. But whether his family will even see him again is as uncertain as ever. The correspondence shines light on a case that epitomizes the post-9/11 world, one in which it's difficult to tell who is and who isn't a villain -- and even if someone is, just how much of a villain he is. The Zammar case typifies the "war on terror," in which the US government seems to believe that almost any means are justified, even torture in a country like Syria, a country that, ironically, the Americans have branded a "rogue state." The case is also symbolic, raising, as it does, the issue of just how far a state governed by the rule of law can go, especially when the division between right and wrong is so murky.

It would be better to have the intestinal fortitude and moral seriousness to torture him ourselves so that we can assure it is humanely done and solely for the purpose of extracting intelligence.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 21, 2005 10:05 AM

Humane torture?

Posted by: Chris Durnell at November 21, 2005 10:25 AM

He is being tortured. He's locked up and can't kill anyone.

Posted by: Sandy P at November 21, 2005 11:55 AM

My concern is the safety of my grandchildren and whatever needs to be done to insure that, is fine with me.

Posted by: erp at November 21, 2005 2:29 PM

Erp summed up the vast majority of Americans. Why do they think this "news" will effect anything? At most, it will help Bush.

Posted by: Pepys at November 21, 2005 2:31 PM

Talking about "Washington's post-9/11 "extraordinary renditions" program" is and out-and-out lie. Extraordinary rendition is a Clinton era program.

From the New Yorker, OUTSOURCING TORTURE: The secret history of America’s "extraordinary rendition" program, by Jane Mayer, February 14, 2005.

Michael Scheuer [is] a former C.I.A. counter-terrorism expert who helped establish the practice of rendition. Scheuer left the agency in 2004, and has written two acerbic critiques of the government’s fight against Islamic terrorism under the pseudonym Anonymous, the most recent of which, “Imperial Hubris,” was a best-seller.

Not long ago, Scheuer, who lives in northern Virginia, spoke openly for the first time about how he and several other top C.I.A. officials set up the program, in the mid-nineties. "It was begun in desperation," he told me. At the time, he was the head of the C.I.A.’s Islamic-militant unit, whose job was to "detect, disrupt, and dismantle" terrorist operations. His unit spent much of 1996 studying how Al Qaeda operated; by the next year, Scheuer said, its mission was to try to capture bin Laden and his associates. He recalled, "We went to the White House — which was then occupied by the Clinton Administration — "and they said, ‘Do it.’" He added that Richard Clarke, who was in charge of counter-terrorism for the National Security Council, offered no advice. "He told me, ‘Figure it out by yourselves,’" Scheuer said. (Clarke did not respond to a request for comment.)

I do have to admit that that Clinton official "Richard Clarke" sounds like an untrustworthy fellow. How the left must abhor him.

Posted by: David Cohen at November 21, 2005 4:14 PM

Do we really trust the Syrians to keep him chained up?

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at November 21, 2005 8:49 PM

"...which the US government seems to believe that almost any means are justified"

Wrong! The US government had damn well better believe that ANY means are necessary. Up to and including firebombing their major cities and converting others to glass parking lots.

Posted by: ray at November 21, 2005 9:30 PM