For Immediate Release
No Justice for Canadian Rendition Victim Maher Arar
Court Refuses to Hold US Officials Accountable for Complicity in Torture Abroad
WASHINGTON - Today, a federal Court of Appeals dismissed Canadian citizen
Maher Arar's case against U.S. officials for their role in sending him to
Syria to be tortured and interrogated for a year. Arar is represented by the
Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR). The court concluded that Arar's
case raised too many sensitive foreign policy and secrecy issues to permit
relief. It leaves the federal officials involved free of any legal
accountability for what they did.
is not available to comment in person, but is issuing the following statement:
"After seven years of pain and hard struggle it was my hope that the
court system would listen to my plea and act as an independent body from the
executive branch. Unfortunately, this recent decision and decisions taken on
other similar cases, prove that the court system in the United States has
become more or less a tool that the executive branch can easily
manipulate through unfounded allegations and fear mongering. If anything, this
decision is a loss to all Americans and to the rule of law."
Said Georgetown law professor and CCR cooperating
attorney David Cole, who argued the case, "This
decision says that U.S. officials can intentionally send a man to be tortured
abroad, bar him from any access to the courts while doing so, and then avoid
any legal accountability thereafter. It effectively places executive officials
above the law, even when accused of a conscious conspiracy to torture. If the
rule of law means anything, it must mean that courts can hear the claim of an
innocent man subjected to torture that violates our most basic constitutional
CCR Senior Staff Attorney
Maria LaHood said, "With this decision, we have lost much more than
Maher Arar's case against torture - we have lost the rule of law,
the moral high ground, our independent judiciary, and our commitment to the
Constitution of the United States."
case was re-heard before twelve Second Circuit judges after a rare decision in
August 2008 to rehear the case sua sponte, that is, of their own accord
before Arar had even sought rehearing.
Mr. Arar, a Syrian-born
Canadian citizen, was detained at JFK Airport in September 2002 while
changing planes on his way home to Canada. The Bush administration labeled him
a member of Al Qaeda and sent him not to Canada, his home and country of
citizenship, but against his will to Syrian intelligence authorities renowned
for torture. He was tortured, interrogated and detained in a tiny underground
cell for nearly a year before the Syrian government released him, stating they
had found no connection to any criminal or terrorist organization or activity.
In January 2004, just three months after he returned home to
Canada from his ordeal, CCR filed a suit on Mr. Arar's behalf against
John Ashcroft and other U.S. officials, the first to challenge the
government's policy of "extraordinary rendition," also known
as "outsourcing torture."
The Canadian government, after an exhaustive public inquiry,
found that Mr. Arar had no connection to terrorism and, in January 2007,
apologized to Mr. Arar for Canada's role in his rendition and awarded him
a multi-million-dollar settlement. The contrast between the two
governments' responses to their mistakes could not be more stark, say Mr.
Arar's attorneys. Both the Executive and Judicial branches of the United
States government have barred inquiry and refused to hold anyone accountable
for ruining the life of an innocent man.
Two Congressional hearings in
October 2007 dealt with his case. On October 18, 2007 Mr. Arar testified via
video at a House Joint Committee Hearing
convened to discuss his rendition by the U.S. to Syria for interrogation under
torture. During that hearing - the first time Mr. Arar
testified before any U.S. governmental body - individual members of
Congress publicly apologized to him, though the government still has not issued
a formal apology. The next week, on October 24,
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice admitted during a House Foreign
Affairs Committee Hearing that the U.S. government mishandled his case.
In a strongly worded dissent, Judge Guido Calabresi wrote,
"I believe that when the history of this distinguished court is written,
today's majority decision will be viewed with dismay."
Joshua Sohn of DLA Piper US LLP, Katherine Gallagher of CCR, and Jules
Lobel, professor at University of Pittsburgh Law School and CCR cooperating
attorney, are co-counsel in Mr. Arar's case.
The Center for Constitutional
Rights represents other victims of the Bush administration's programs,
from Iraqis tortured and abused at Abu Ghraib prison to Muslim and Arab men
rounded up and abused in immigration sweeps in the U.S. in the aftermath of
9/11, to Guantanamo detainees in the recent Supreme Court case.
For more on Mr. Arar's case, including a timeline,
court papers and other documents, go to http://ccrjustice.org/
Additional information may be found by entering the search term
"Arar" at the Center for Constitutional Rights website, www.ccrjustice.org.
The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.