WASHINGTON - AUGUST 9 - Today, Canadian government released new information regarding the rendition of Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) client Maher Arar that it had previously redacted due to "national security" concerns. The information exposes the CIA's role in Mr. Arar's rendition.
"Once again, Canada has shown its willingness to bring to light what was done to Maher," said CCR Senior Staff Attorney Maria LaHood. "Information was kept secret on 'national security' grounds to hide CIA involvement, the fact that the FBI would not institute a criminal investigation, and the fact that information used to implicate Maher was obtained through torture. It is time for the United States government to finally come clean about why it sent Maher to Syria - to be detained and interrogated under torture."
Upon Mr. Arar's return to Canada, the Canadian Commission of Inquiry was established to investigate his case. The Canadian Commission declared Mr. Arar innocent of any connections to terrorism, stating "Canadian investigators made extensive efforts to find any information that could implicate Mr. Arar in terrorist activities," and "they found none." The Canadian Minister of Public Safety reviewed the U.S. government's secret dossier on Mr. Arar and said it contains no additional evidence.
Today, in response to a court order, the Canadian government released some portions of the report that were previously redacted. The court found that the information it ordered disclosed would not injure national security or international relations, and/or it was in the public interest to disclose it regardless. These portions show:
• The CIA was involved in Mr. Arar's detention starting at least when he was detained in New York. On October 3, 2002, the CIA asked Canada a number of questions about Mr. Arar, purportedly for use in supporting the "INS removal process." After Mr. Arar's rendition, the CIA gave Canada a "fairly terse" response to its request for information about his "removal." One Canadian official noted that "the CIA had a lot more latitude than law enforcement agencies when it came to the war on terror."
• In mid-2002 Canadian investigators were not able to convince the FBI to institute a criminal investigation of the subjects of their investigation, much less Mr. Arar, who had been identified as a potential witness.
• Within days of Mr. Arar's "removal" from the U.S., Canadian intelligence officials noted that he was a victim of the U.S. practice of rendition, in which the U.S. sends a suspect who cannot legally be held, or who it wants to be questioned in a "firm manner," to a country that "can have their way with him."
• According to Canadian officials who met with Syrian officials more than a month into Mr. Arar's detention, Syria did not view Mr. Arar as a major case, and seemed to view the matter "as more of a nuisance."
• Canadian officials obtained a telephone warrant in September 2002 using information obtained by torture from Ahmed El Maati in Syria, without providing critical information to the Canadian judge, including records of Syria's human rights abuses and specifically the torture of detainees held incommunicado at the same Syrian facility where Mr. Arar was later tortured.
Portions of the Report still remain redacted, at least some of which likely include more details about United States involvement.
"Clearly the released information poses no harm to national security," added LaHood, "and makes one question what else is being hidden to protect the United States or others from embarrassment."
Mr. Arar's U.S. case, Arar v. Ashcroft, continues to move forward. After it was dismissed in February 2006 on "national security" and "foreign policy" grounds, the Center for Constitutional Rights filed an appeal in the Second Circuit in December 2006. The appeal has been fully briefed since April, but oral argument in the Second Circuit has not yet been scheduled. The firm of DLA Piper is co-counsel in Arar v. Ashcroft. Maria LaHood is currently on leave from the Center for Constitutional Rights as a Visiting Assistant Clinical Professor at Northwestern Law School's MacArthur Justice Center.
In January 2007, negotiations with the Canadian government resulted in an apology from the government and a multi-million-dollar settlement for Mr. Arar. In May 2007, Time Magazine named Mr. Arar one of its Time 100, a "list of 100 men and women whose power, talent, or moral example is transforming our world."
Mr. Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian citizen, was detained at JFK Airport in September 2002 on his way home to Canada. He was held in solitary confinement and interrogated without the benefit of legal counsel. The administration labeled him a member of Al Qaeda and sent him not to Canada, his home and country of citizenship, but to Syrian intelligence authorities known to torture. Mr. Arar was brutally interrogated and tortured in Syria, without charge. After nearly a year of confinement, Syrian authorities released Mr. Arar, publicly stating that they had traced links and found nothing. Upon his return to Canada, Mr. Arar was never charged with any crime; nor has he been charged with any crime by the United States. He was also the first victim of the practice to come forward and contest his treatment in a U.S. court.
The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) is a non-profit legal and educational organization dedicated to protecting and advancing the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights demonstrators in the South, CCR is committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change."