Published on Tuesday, March 6, 2007 by the Toronto Star (Canada)
Democrats Renew Arar Fight
First step in bid to ban `repugnant' practice of sending suspects to other lands for torture
by Tim Harper
WASHINGTON – A Massachusetts Democrat, citing the "travesty'' of Maher Arar, will rekindle a bid today to outlaw the Bush administration practice of outsourcing torture.
Representative Ed Markey says he is optimistic a Democratic-controlled Congress can end the practice known as "extraordinary rendition'' in which detainees are transferred to countries where there are substantial grounds to believe they could be tortured.
The first step to ending the "repugnant and counterproductive'' rendition practice, Markey says, is a tough congressional investigation of the case of the B.C. software engineer.
Markey, under his bill in the House of Representatives, would compel the administration to compile a list of countries known to abuse and torture prisoners and prevent the deportation of anyone to any of them unless the secretary of state certified that the country in question no longer practised abuse.
A "diplomatic assurance'' from a country would no longer suffice.
Attorney-General Alberto Gonzales has cited such an assurance from Syria in attempting to justify Arar's 2002 rendition to Syria from New York's JFK airport, even though that country had been on a state department list of human rights abusers.
"It is simply shocking that today, the United States still refuses to apologize to Maher Arar,'' Markey said yesterday.
Canada issued a formal apology to Arar in January and awarded him $11.5 million in compensation.
Markey said despite the Canadian apology and compensation paid to Arar and his family, the Bush administration is keeping him on a "no-fly list'' without any justification.
The 16-term congressman is leading the effort to force action on Arar in the House of Representatives, while Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Republican Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania are leading efforts in the Senate.
Markey introduced his Outsourcing of Torture bill in the last Congress, but since then two countries, Germany and Italy, have started proceedings which would end with charges laid against CIA agents for the kidnappings of citizens.
And the European Parliament has since identified more than 1,000 CIA-operated "ghost flights'' that used European airspace and airports between 2001 and 2005.
U.S. President George W. Bush has also acknowledged the existence of secret CIA prisons and asserted his right to continue to use them.
Rendition victims are finding no satisfaction in U.S. courts.
Last Friday, a federal appeals court in Virginia ruled that American state secrets trumped the rights of a German rendition victim, in a decision that could forebode the difficulty faced by Arar as his case winds its way through the U.S. court system.
Khaled el-Masri, who says he was beaten and sodomized in a so-called "salt pit'' prison in Afghanistan after being kidnapped by CIA agents in Macedonia on New Year's Eve 2003, was again denied the opportunity to proceed with a lawsuit against former CIA chief George Tenet and other administration officials.
Ben Wizner, the American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who argued el-Masri's case, said the court's decision that such a lawsuit would expose "state secrets'' gives virtual immunity to the CIA.
But it does not necessarily sink the hopes of Arar, who is appealing a lower court ruling dismissing his lawsuit in New York.
Arar should get his day in court some time this summer, but legal analysts say he still has hope because his case is being heard in a more liberal circuit and because the judge who dismissed his earlier bid did not invoke the state secrets argument.
Wizner said the ACLU is strongly leaning toward an appeal of the el-Masri case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"The question is where will this edifice of secrecy and unaccountability crack?'' Wizner said.
"I think it will be Khaled el-Masri and Maher Arar on Capitol Hill, testifying to Congressional committees, telling them that if innocent people cannot be vindicated in a court of law, there is something wrong in this system.
"I think el-Masri and Arar will be eventually seen as trailblazers and I think the day will come that we will see Maher Arar in Washington, D.C.''
El-Masri, unlike Arar, is allowed to travel to the U.S., apparently because he was never rendered from this country.
He was in the court last November to hear his case argued, and in an emotional piece he wrote in The Los Angeles Times last weekend, he said he hoped Americans would one day "see me as a human being – not a state secret.'
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