DAWN - Opinion; March, 29 2005

March 29, 2005

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Expatriates’ economic role

By Shahid Javed Burki


The story of the development of the Pakistani expatriates community in various parts of the world was the product of some remarkable demographic shifts that occurred in the country since it gained independence nearly six decades ago. Exactly how and why these shifts happened warrants further study. This is for the simple reason that the formation of the expatriates community and their interaction with the home country are events of enormous significance not just for the history of the communities of Pakistanis living abroad but also for the social, political and economic development of Pakistan.

Like the Jews, the Chinese and some Indians, some Pakistanis are also naturally diasporic people. They are prepared to move long distances in order to escape economic hardship or religious persecution and also to look for new opportunities. Of these early long-distance migrants it was only the Jews who displayed a strong sense of separate identity and nationhood.

These impulses were strong enough for them to create a homeland for themselves against heavy odds. The Indian and Chinese communities for a long time took little interest in their respective countries of origin. The Chinese, living in various China towns in the western world, were almost totally out of touch with the homeland. This was also the case with the Indian communities in the Caribbean and various parts of Africa.

The Asian foreign communities were founded hundreds of years ago. Their isolation from the homeland may have been the result of poor communications in those periods. The more recent migrants are different. No matter where they come from they tend to remain in close touch with the places and people they have left behind. This is made possible by the low cost of communication; it takes a few pennies to make a telephone call to the homeland whereas a few decades ago the cost was a multiple of the daily wage.

The same is true about the cost of travel. A return air ticket from the United States to Pakistan costs less than one-tenth of the annual minimum wage of a gainfully employed person. It is not surprising that, when the new migrants have the financial wherewithal, they tend to look at their homeland as a destination for their savings. This is certainly what the large communities of Pakistani expatriates are now beginning to do.

This would not be an unusual role for a diaspora; this type of contribution has been made — and is being made — by the communities that originated in many countries. These include Israel, Ireland, Poland, China, the Philippines, India and Mexico. Pakistan has now joined this league of nations. In fact the total amount of remittances flowing into the developing world from the groups of immigrants living and working in various parts of the developed world is now more than $100 billion a year. This is twice the amount of total foreign aid provided by rich nations to poor countries and about a quarter of the annual flow of foreign direct investment into the developing world.

The fact that governments in the developing world invest so much time and effort in maintaining good relations with the providers of development assistance but spend practically no time at all studying their expatriates or working with them is a good indication of the ignorance about the important role these communities are playing — or could play — in the development of their homelands.

The precise interest of the expatriate communities in their homeland is the product of several factors. These include the economic and social background of the immigrants, the nature and scope of types of ties the overseas communities maintain with the country of their origin, the types of financial instruments that are available to the remitters, and the way the communities living and working abroad view their home country’s economic prospects. Given these factors no stream of remittance is the same. A country hoping to economically benefit from the wealth of its citizens living abroad would do well to understand their economic interests.

In the article last week, I began to provide some insights into one of these communities — the one in the United States of America. Let me recapitulate some of the guess-estimates I provided last week about the economic situation of the Pakistani expatriates in North America before moving forward with the story about their growing influence in the home country. I settled for a smaller estimate of half a million for the total number of Pakistanis resident in North America. This is a lower count than my earlier estimates, taking into account some of the more recent work done in this area. That notwithstanding, I still believe that there are many more Pakistanis in North America than suggested by some studies.

I suggested last week that the aggregate annual income of the North American expatriates is of the order of $25 billion, their accumulated wealth is in the neighbourhood of $100 billion, and their combined yearly savings is probably more than $6 billion. With about 200,000 households making up the expatriate community in several cities of the United States, their average net wealth is about half a million dollars per family. The income from this asset base should be around $40,000 a year.

In other words, the Pakistanis resident in the United States and Canada have enough accumulated wealth to ensure a sizable yearly income in addition to what they earn from their jobs and businesses. How are they using their savings from both accumulated wealth and current income? How much of these savings are going to Pakistan and what is the likelihood of their increase? Would the expatriates be prepared to tap into their wealth to make investments in Pakistan? Is there a role for the Pakistani government in encouraging the expatriates’ savings to flow to Pakistan? I will attempt answers to these and other questions over the next week or two.

Financial flows from the Pakistani communities in the United States could play a significant role in the economic and social development of the home country. This has already begun to happen given the quantum jump in the level of remittances in the last few years. In 2003-2004, the total amount of remittances received by Pakistan was more than four per cent of the country’s gross domestic product, equal to about one-quarter of the total amount of net investment. This flow contributed more than one percentage point to the increase in national income estimated at 6.4 per cent for the year. In other words, the Pakistani expatriates are already contributing significantly to their homeland’s economic development.

Neither the academic community nor government agencies have taken much interest in understanding the economic background and medium and long-term economic interests of the Pakistanis residing in the United States. It is my belief that this community is poised to play a significant economic and social role in the future of their homeland. Since the contribution they could make will be more pronounced than that of the two other Pakistani expatriate communities — those in Britain and the Middle East — it is worth the effort to develop a better understanding of these communities.

What follows is an effort to disaggregate the large community of Pakistanis in North America into its various parts. This description is not based on deep research but drawn from informed guess and personal knowledge about the broad economic characteristics of these diverse groups of people.

There is a rich mix of social and economic backgrounds among the North American Pakistani expatriates. The community in the Greater Washington area is dominated by the professional classes, a significant number of whom are employed in the public sector including the federal government, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. There are also people from this community — in particular from the second or third generations — who have found jobs in the numerous think-tanks that operate in the area. A growing number of working class immigrants from Pakistan are now resident in the northern part of the state of Virginia, next door to Washington.

Further up the East Coast are the communities of New Jersey and New York which have a larger proportion of working classes than is the case with the other expatriates. As is common with other groups of immigrants, the members of this group have congregated in the businesses in which some of those that had come earlier scored successes. Prominent in this group are taxi drivers, owners of newspaper kiosks, owners and workers in small retail businesses, and owners and waiters in ethnic restaurants.

Moving further north are the communities in Chicago and Detroit. Not unlike the Washington group, this group also has a significant number of professionals — physicians and surgeons, engineers, lawyers, economists and accountants. Almost all of them work in private businesses, either self-owned or as employees in large firms. The Toronto Pakistani community in Canada — the largest Pakistani expatriate community in that country — is basically an extension of the Chicago group.

The community in the San Francisco and Los Angeles area is dominated by the people in the high-tech industry. As a result of the IT and dot.com booms of the ‘nineties some of these people have experienced vertiginous upward economic mobility. The size of accumulated wealth and annual incomes of this community is considerably greater than the average for the communities in other parts of the continent.

Finally, the Pakistani community in the Houston-Dulles area is dominated by the people who have set up successful businesses; some of them in the oil sector while some other have taken advantage of the economic boom that has lasted for decades in the area. Since this part of the United States has a very strong presence of immigrants many of whom operate their own businesses, the Pakistanis have found an easier acceptance here as business owners and operators.

These communities have different economic interests in Pakistan. The working class communities on the East Coast (Washington-Virginia and New Jersey-New York) are not unlike the Pakistani workers in the Middle East. While they earn considerably more but save less than the Pakistani workers in the Gulf states, they do send money to their relatives and friends back in the homeland. A steady flow of about $150 million from the United States to Pakistan in the period before 9/11 was made up of this type of remittance. It is unlikely that the total amount of money originating with this group would grow in any significant way unless their number increases. The size of this component of the expatriate community is unlikely to increase given the constraints imposed on the entry of people with low levels of skills into the United States following 9/11. These constraints are particularly severe for the Muslim world.

The more well-to-do members of the various communities of Pakistanis identified above have come recently into the picture as active remitters, attracted by the booming real estate markets in various parts of Pakistan. How they are responding to the opportunities they see in the homeland will be the subject of the article next week.

Meeting natural disasters

By Akram Khatoon


Growing poverty, particularly among South and Southeast Asian countries, is the outcome of various internal and external shocks being experienced in this part of the world. The increasing frequency of natural calamities is leading to the devastation and then the rebuilding of economies.

Countries in the region lying on the seismic belt and exposed to extreme weather vagaries as a result of global warming frequently experience earthquakes, cyclones, floods and sometimes drought conditions.

In a study conducted by the United Nations’ Economic Commission for Latin America and Caribbean to assess the impact of natural disasters in developing countries, it was revealed that natural disasters strongly impact on low-income developing countries with poor socio-economic conditions. The destruction of infrastructure, natural resources, industrial and agricultural assets and human resources have long lasting repercussions on the economies of the affected countries.

Last year’s tsunami catastrophe engulfing Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, parts of southern India and the Maldives has brought unimaginable misery to these countries. In Indonesia, small islands skirting Java have been totally washed away. Aceh province has suffered major damage. The southern parts of Sri Lanka and the Maldives have also been exposed to severe hurricane and oceanic earthquake syndrome.

Most of the countries affected by the tsunami have the potential to overcome their economic losses in due course of time as their economic growth rate, particularly that of India and Indonesia, has been more than satisfactory during the last five years. Their fiscal position has improved and their forex reserves are exceptionally high.

A report released by the Asian Development Bank regarding the extent of damage to the affected countries reveals that as an after-effect of this disaster in Indonesia alone, an additional one million people may be thrown into the poverty net. In India and Sri-Lanka, the figure for newly poverty-stricken people is expected to be 645,000 and 250,000 respectively. In the Maldives, the percentage of population living in absolute poverty may exceed 50 after 23,500 additional people have been dragged into the poverty net.

The affected countries have experienced sizable loss with regard to human capital also. According to one report, in Indonesia alone about 3,000 teachers and 50,000 students have been killed which has greatly disrupted the country’s academic activities for the current year, particularly in the smaller islands. Besides that, according to the ADB report, the affected economies are likely to face an overall fiscal deficit of $5 billion during the current year.

However, there exists a silver lining. Financial aid coming from all over the world would enable these countries to withstand the damage done to their economies. Reconstruction work has already started, and in view of the strong fiscal position of these countries, they can attract foreign investment which would create more jobs.

Pakistan, being in this region, is experiencing drastic changes in climatic conditions owing to global warming. The recent unusual heavy rains and snowfall and frequent landslides in the Northern Areas and Balochistan have done great damage to life, assets and infrastructure. The relief measures taken by the government for the affected areas have been a considerable burden on the country’s budget.

The UN population division in its report for 2000 has included Karachi among the high-risk megacities having a population exceeding 10 million. The places identified lie on the seismic belt and are also vulnerable to other natural calamities like cyclones, floods and extreme drought conditions. In the case of Karachi, as a safeguard against earthquakes, proper planning is needed for the construction of buildings along the coastal area.

The recent heavy rains, snowfall and floods in various parts of the country have no doubt eased up the problem of water shortage to some extent. But, at the same time, these have damaged various small dams besides affecting the yield of important food and cash crops. This has had a negative impact on the already poor population.

Mostly, the rural population living near riversides, on hills and along the seacoast is involved in farming and fishing business. Their agricultural land, livestock and boats are frequently damaged owing to increasing frequency of natural catastrophes. Three years ago, upper Sindh and the entire Balochistan area experienced the worst drought conditions resulting in heavy loss to the economy as a whole.

Growing urbanization and the fast increase in big cities’ population is yet another factor making things worse during a natural calamity in densely populated cities. The UN population division report reveals that the number of people in developing countries who live in cities has doubled since 1960 and on an average the component of urban population in these countries is now 40 per cent of the total.

It is expected that by 2030, the urban population would comprise nearly 55 per cent of the total. To prevent the migration of the rural population to urban hubs, steps should be taken to provide the necessary infrastructure in the rural areas to develop agri-based small and medium-sized industries to generate employment opportunities.

Pakistan being a low-income developing country has the least capacity to adopt sophisticated strategies to prevent or absorb catastrophic shocks like insurance against natural catastrophe, catastrophe swaps etc., in vogue in economically developed countries. However, measures like proper town planning, regulated construction of highrises and preventing settlements in coastal areas and along steep river courses should be given due importance.

Further, in order to combat frequent drought conditions particularly in Pakistan, it is essential to build more small dams, so as to enhance the capacity of water reserves, specially for Sindh and Balochistan. This would not only ensure perennial water supply, but also arrest losses caused by heavy rains and floods.

To cope with drought conditions, steps should be taken to promote farming practices which may prompt farmers to grow drought resistance crop varieties. In this regard, research and development activities should be speeded up at agriculture research centres and universities to develop and identify new varieties of drought-resistance crops.

As a measure of long term planning, economic empowerment of the financially disadvantaged population needs to be given top priority. In low-income developing countries like Pakistan it is always the poor who bear the brunt of natural disasters as they usually live in vulnerable areas.

In order to empower the poor economically, enabling them to cope with hardships in the aftermath of a natural disaster, infrastructure development work should be undertaken on a massive scale. This would not only generate direct employment opportunities for poor, but also boost the growth rate of both the agricultural and industrial sectors which would reduce unemployment and arrest growing poverty in the country.

The writer is former president of the First Women Bank.

Saving nonproliferation

By Jimmy Carter


Renewal talks for the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) are scheduled for May, yet the United States and other nuclear powers seem indifferent to its fate. This is remarkable, considering the addition of Iran and North Korea as states that either possess or seek nuclear weapons programmes.

A recent United Nations report warned starkly: “We are approaching a point at which the erosion of the non-proliferation regime could become irreversible and result in a cascade of proliferation.”

A group of “Middle States” has a simple goal: “To exert leverage on the nuclear powers to take some minimum steps to save the non-proliferation treaty in 2005.” Last year this coalition of nuclear-capable states — including Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden and eight NATO members — voted for a new agenda resolution calling for implementing NPT commitments already made. Tragically, the United States, Britain and France voted against this resolution.

So far the preparatory committee for the forthcoming NPT talks has failed even to achieve an agenda because of the deep divisions between nuclear powers that refuse to meet their own disarmament commitments and the nonnuclear movement, whose demands include honouring these pledges and considering the Israeli arsenal.

Until recently all American presidents since Dwight Eisenhower had striven to restrict and reduce nuclear arsenals — some more than others. So far as I know, there are no present efforts by any of the nuclear powers to accomplish these crucial goals.

The United States is the major culprit in this erosion of the NPT. While claiming to be protecting the world from proliferation threats in Iraq, Libya, Iran and North Korea, American leaders not only have abandoned existing treaty restraints but also have asserted plans to test and develop new weapons, including anti-ballistic missiles, the earth-penetrating “bunker buster” and perhaps some new “small” bombs. They also have abandoned past pledges and now threaten first use of nuclear weapons against nonnuclear states.

Some corrective actions are obvious:

1. The United States needs to address remaining nuclear issues with Russia, demanding the same standards of transparency and verification of past arms control agreements and dismantling and disposal of decommissioned weapons. With massive arsenals still on hair-trigger alert status, a global holocaust is just as possible now, through mistakes or misjudgments, as it was during the depths of the Cold War. We could address perhaps the world’s greatest proliferation threat by fully securing Russia’s stockpiles.

2. While all nuclear weapons states should agree to non-first use, the United States, as the sole superpower, should take the lead on this issue.

3. NATO needs to de-emphasize the role of its nuclear weapons and consider an end to their deployment in Western Europe. Despite its eastward expansion, NATO is keeping the same stockpiles and policies as when the Iron Curtain divided the continent.

4. The comprehensive test ban treaty should be honoured, but the United States is moving in the opposite direction. The administration’s 2005 budget refers for the first time to a list of test scenarios, and other nations are waiting to take the same action.

5. The United States should support a fissile materials treaty to prevent the creation and transport of highly enriched uranium and plutonium.

6. Curtail US development of the infeasible missile defence shield, which is wasting huge resources, while breaking our commitment to the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty without a working substitute.

7. Act on nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, an increasing source of instability in that region. Iran has repeatedly hidden its intentions to enrich uranium while claiming that its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes only. This explanation has been given before, by India, Pakistan and North Korea, and has led to weapons programmes in all three states. Iran must be called to account and held to its promises under the Non-Proliferation Treaty. At the same time, we fail to acknowledge how Israel’s nuclear status entices Iran, Syria, Egypt and other states to join the community of nuclear weapons states.

These are vital questions, and the world will know the answers during the NPT conference in May.—Dawn/Washington Post Service

The writer, a former US president, is founder of the Carter Centre in Atlanta.

‘Enlightened moderation’ and the right

By Iqbal Haider


True to character, the government has made yet another somersault by withdrawing a positive decision to delete the column of religion from our passports. The greater tragedy is that it was done under pressure from the orthodox religious forces only a day after their million march.

The ruling elite has once again reaffirmed its fundamental principle of “might is right”, which it follows religiously for self-perpetuation. Little wonder it also succumbs to the might of others, whether religious/sectarian or ethnic. Consequently, the extremist forces gain more courage, confidence and motivation to impose on the people their obscurantist, illogical and half-baked ideas, values and norms, through sheer show of force.

It seems that our rulers rely on rhetoric and peroration rather than action to eradicate and discourage the reactionary norms and practices promoted by the militant religious forces. Gen. Pervez Musharraf and his colleagues have also found it expedient, “in the national interest,” to bow down before these forces. The list of surrenders is unending and difficult to cover in one article. However, some of the most capricious somersaults detrimental to the rights and interests of the people are as under:-

1. Immediately after his takeover, the general had expressed his appreciation for the great reformist of Turkey, Kemal Ataturk. But to pacify the obscurantist, while addressing the journalists of Saarc countries at Islamabad only a few months later, perhaps in July 2000, the general denied having any such liking or appreciation for Ataturk.

2. In April 2000, a national convention on human rights was held in Islamabad. This convention was attended mostly by non-governmental organizations and some leaders of public opinion. People were happy that attention was being paid to the human right issues. The decisions of this convention, in particular to amend the blasphemy law, that is, Section 295-C of the PPC with a view to preventing its misuse, were welcomed by most sections of public opinion. However, when the extremists started protesting, within a couple of weeks, the chief executive (as the president then was) changed his mind and said that none of these laws would be amended.

3. On the demand of one religious party, the chief executive immediately inducted in his cabinet Professor Mahmood Ahmed Ghazi. According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, reproduced in Dawn of January 1, 2001, “Mr. Ghazi graduated from a madressah as that also produced several Taliban leaders, some of whom were his classmates.”

4. The military government decided not only to abandon a survey of religious seminaries (The News August 19, 2000) but also lifted the ban on grant of financial assistance to the madressahs out of the Zakat funds. (Jang, October 25, 2000). The government also decided to incorporate the madressahs in the main educational system of the country to enable their graduates to get jobs in other fields (chief Executive’s interview, weekly Newsweek, February 19, 2001). This decision only resulted in a further mushroom growth of madressahs, and increased output of self-righteous youths spreading our all over the country and claiming appointments in private and public institutions on the basis of madressah degrees.

5. As one religious party started its campaign against the signing of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and threatened to launch a movement, Gen. Musharraf decided not to sign the CTBT, though for all possible considerations, it was in the interest of Pakistan to do so at that juncture.

6. A religious organization demanded deletion of the name of the Nobel laureate Dr. Abdus Salam from the roll of scientists in textbooks. The Punjab education department obliged the extremist religious party and issued instructions to the Punjab Textbook Board to correct the textbooks accordingly. (Article by Kunwar Idrees, Dawn, July 24, 2000).

7. The government had also agreed to amend certain provisions of criminal laws with a view to ensuring prosecution of and award of exemplary punishment to culprits involved in “honour killing” cases. Three prominent NGOs, namely the HRCP, the Aurat Foundation and Shirkat Gah, after consultation with virtually all concerned sections of society, had succeeded in preparing a balanced, comprehensive draft of the amendments required in the Pakistan Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code.

A copy of the draft bill was circulated to all political parties in parliament, including the ruling coalition and the opposition. It was hoped that this draft bill would be passed by consensus. But under pressure of the religious parties, the treasury benches chose to reject this bill and instead made only cosmetic changes in the PPC that are not capable of serving the objective for which the amendments were required.

8. In its same bill to amend PPC ostensibly to tackle the issue of “Honour Killing”, the government surreptitiously added an amendment in Section 295-C relating to the blasphemy law, but again in a manner that it should not offend the sensitivities of the religious parties. This amendment as well would not fully serve the purpose and prevent wide misuse of the blasphemy law, by instituting false and fabricated cases, on the basis of personal enmity, prejudice and hatred.

9. In November 2003, speakers of both the National Assembly and the Sindh Assembly refused to allow any discussion on a resolution moved by some of the members to condemn the barbaric practice of “honour killing”. So much so, that the member who had dared to move the resolution in the National Assembly was reprimanded and advised to withdraw it.

This is not an exhaustive list of contradictions, hypocrisy and somersaults. I am sure many other such incidents must have occurred and would be in the knowledge of concerned citizens. The latest decision of the federal cabinet to restore the religion column in the machine-readable passports and to inscribe the words “Islamic Republic of Pakistan” on the passport’s cover, belies all claims of “enlightened moderation” and is devoid of any logic. A passport is not a certificate of one’s religious beliefs. It only certifies the nationality of the citizen, irrespective of his religion or ideology.

The founder of our country, the Quaid-i-Azam, in his historic speech of August 11, 1947, had rightly emphasized that “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed, that has nothing to do with the business of the state.” and that “Pakistan shall not be a theocratic state.”

It is also pertinent to highlight, and I state this without any fear of contradiction, that neither the Independence Act of 1947 nor any other constitutional instrument or law pertaining to the creation of Pakistan nor in any of his statements or speeches did the Quaid-i-Azam ever name or brand Pakistan as the “Islamic Republic of Pakistan”. Pakistan was only called “Dominion of Pakistan”, simply because the Quaid-i-Azam was conscious of the fact that the state was incapable of having any religion by any stretch of logic or reason.

It was the unholy alliance of the civil and military bureaucracy which, to perpetuate its undemocratic rule, invoked the innovation of the prefix of “Islamic” to the “Republic of Pakistan” in the Constitution of 1956 with a view to exploiting religious sentiments of the people.

It is our misfortune that every strategam is adopted and promoted in Pakistan in the name of religio to exploit, hoodwink and subjugate the people. It is interesting to observe that Gen. Pervez Musharraf has been claiming from time to time — and rightly so — that not more then 10% of the People of Pakistan are orthodox extremist Muslims.

However, while announcing the latest ill-advised and misconceived decision, his federal ministers in their press conference attempted to justify it by claiming that it was taken in view of the demand of the people. Whose demand was it? Obviously of not more than a 10 per cent minority of the bigots in Pakistan. Why should the liberal, moderate and enlightened people who admittedly constitute more than 90 per cent of the population be subjected to the will, whims and fancies of orthodox extremist forces, who are not more than 10 per cent of our population?

It appears that “enlightened moderation” is nothing more than a hollow slogan. In practice the ruling junta is only serving the agenda of reaction and conveying the image of Pakistan as a country of bigots, ruled by and for bigots.

The writer is a former senator, attorney-general and federal minister for law, justice, parliamentary affairs and human rights.

Email: hnhadv@cyber.net.pk

Torture by proxy

President Bush declared in his State of the Union address, “Torture is never acceptable, nor do we hand over people to countries that do torture.” Considering what’s come to light since then, the most charitable conclusion is that Bush is completely out of the loop.

In recent weeks, past and present administration officials have confirmed that since September 2001 the Central Intelligence Agency has dispatched between 100 and 150 terror suspects to countries where fine points of law and human rights don’t stop beatings, drugging or long isolation.

Before the 9/11 attacks, the CIA occasionally engaged in this indefensible practice, known as “extraordinary rendition.” But afterward, Bush gave the agency wider license to export prisoners in terror-related cases who hadn’t been tried or even charged with any crime. Despite his State of the Union declaration, the president has apparently not revoked that authority.

US law and international conventions bar sending prisoners to another nation unless there are strong assurances of humane treatment. The CIA says with a straight face that it gets those assurances before delivering suspects to jailers in Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Pakistan — countries that have such abysmal human rights records that promises of decent treatment are a joke.

Bush has argued that tough new rules of engagement are necessary to fight stateless terrorists. But morality aside, what intelligence of value have U.S. officials gleaned from suspects who’ve been handed off to modern-day dungeons?

A case in point: In 2002, federal agents arrested Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian engineer, at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York because his name appeared on a terrorist watch list. Although Arar insisted that he was not a terrorist, the United States delivered him to Syrian interrogators. After months in a windowless room and regular beatings with thick electric cables, he said, he confessed to anything they wanted just to stop the torment. A year later, Arar was released without charges.

This barbarism is why US judges have refused to condone the indefinite detention of terrorism suspects.

Los Angeles Times

Reopening government

Openness in government has diminished during the Bush administration. Classification actions rose 75 percent between 2001 and 2004. Immigration authorities kept secret the names of hundreds of detainees rounded up after Sept. 11, as did military authorities for detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Legal memorandums authorizing key tactics in the war on terrorism were needlessly kept secret.

The administration has stiffed Congress on oversight requests across a wide range of areas, and it has aggressively sought to withhold material — even such obviously nonsensitive data as aggregate intelligence spending from the late 1940s — under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The Washington Post