NEW YORK - A United States appeals court decision upholding the dismissal of a lawsuit from Canadian Maher Arar essentially enables the U.S. government to send foreigners to be tortured, a lawyer with a human rights group representing Arar said Monday.
"It means that the U.S. can do to anyone what they did to Maher," said Maria LaHood, a senior attorney with the U.S.-based Center for Constitutional Rights.
"They can do it to anyone, to any foreign citizen, and use the immigration process as a guise, basically, to send someone to be tortured."
Arar, a Canadian citizen of Syrian birth, was stopped by U.S. officials at JFK Airport in New York City as he returned to Canada from a holiday abroad in 2002.
Arar was labelled a member of al-Qaida and deported to his native Syria even though he was travelling on a Canadian passport and had insisted he wanted to go home to Canada.
He was eventually released without charges and he returned to Canada, where a judicial inquiry cleared him of any terrorist links and Ottawa awarded him compensation of $10.5 million.
The U.S. Court of Appeals in New York ruled Monday that Arar's claim that it was a violation of due process to send him to Syria could not be heard in federal court. The court concluded that adjudicating the claims would interfere with sensitive matters of foreign policy and national security.
"It's a quite sweeping and reprehensible opinion," said LaHood. "It's quite sweeping in how much deference it gives to the U.S. government."
LaHood spoke with Arar and said he is equally taken aback by the decision.
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"He was not only disappointed too, but outraged," she said.
"He's rightfully angered that he cannot get justice, and that not only can he not get justice, but that his being sent to torture has now been in vain because he can't even stop the government from doing it to someone else."
The 2-1 ruling also said that Arar, as a foreigner who had not been formally admitted to the U.S., had no constitutional due process rights.
"We are deeply disappointed," David Cole, a Center for Constitutional Rights board member, said in a statement.
"The Supreme Court earlier this month held that the Constitution protects foreign nationals held as 'enemy combatants' at Guantanamo, yet the Second Circuit has ruled that a Canadian changing planes at JFK has no constitutional right to object to being spirited away to Syria to be tortured."
As a next step Arar can either ask the same three-judge panel to review their decision, ask the entire Second Circuit to review the decision, or petition the Supreme Court to review it, LaHood said.
"We haven't decided yet what we'll do, but we won't let it end here," she said.
The appeals court dismissal upholds the decision from a lower court. In February 2006, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York dismissed Arar's lawsuit, citing national security and foreign policy considerations.
© 2008 The Canadian Press