For Immediate Release
CCR Asks Supreme Court to Give Canadian Rendition Victim Maher Arar His Day in Court
Arar Seeks to Hold U.S. Officials Accountable for Complicity in Torture
NEW YORK - Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) asked the United States Supreme Court to take up the case of Canadian citizen Maher Arar against
U.S. officials for sending him to Syria to be interrogated under
torture and arbitrarily detained for a year. Lower courts concluded
that Mr. Arar's suit could not proceed because it raised sensitive
foreign policy and secrecy issues. If the Court of Appeals' ruling is
allowed to stand, the federal officials involved will effectively be
immunized from any civil legal accountability for what they did to an
Maher Arar is not available to comment in person, but
is issuing the following statement: "With renewed hope I am asking the
Supreme Court of the United States to hear my plight and eventually
overturn lower courts' rulings which essentially gave the government
the green light to continue the abuse of its executive powers in
matters related to National Security."
CCR attorneys say the Supreme Court should hear the case because the
Court of Appeals' decision not only contradicts Supreme Court decisions
but also raises issues of national importance by effectively immunizing
federal officials who conspired to subject Arar to torture, and to
block his access to a court that would almost certainly have barred the
federal officials from carrying out their illegal plan.
Because the case was fully briefed and argued before President Obama
took office, his administration has not yet had to take a position on
Mr. Arar's case, but is expected to do so in response to Mr. Arar's
Said Georgetown law professor and CCR cooperating attorney David Cole,
who argued Arar's case in the lower courts, "The courts below ruled
that federal officials cannot be sued for sending an innocent man to
Syria to be tortured because the case would be too sensitive - even
though Congress has declared that courts are fully competent to assess
claims that the United States is sending non-citizens to countries
where they face a risk of torture. We hope the Supreme Court will
reaffirm the role of checks and balances and afford Mr. Arar his day in
Mr. Arar alleges that the U.S. officials named in the suit conspired
with Syrian officials to have him tortured in Syria, delivered him to
his torturers, provided them with a dossier on him and questions to ask
him, and then obtained the answers tortured out of him. The legal
arguments in the case revolve around whether U.S. officials can be sued
for damages if that is the only remedy available to the victim, and
whether Mr. Arar has a right to pursue his claims under the Torture
Victim Protection Act, among others.
"Thus far the United States courts have let Maher Arar down," said CCR Senior Attorney Maria LaHood. "Today
we ask the justices of the Supreme Court to consider Maher's case and
show the world that the Judiciary in this country is not broken, and
that it can and will declare that the men who delivered Maher to
torture and prevented him from going to court to stop them do not get a
free pass just because they worked for the U.S. government."
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
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.
The Court of Appeals case was heard a second time in December 2008
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
Mr. Arar had even sought rehearing. On November 2, 2009, the Second
Circuit Court of Appeals en banc affirmed the district court's decision
dismissing the 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."
Read more on Mr. Arar's case, including a timeline, links to videos, court papers and other documents.
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
- Arar v. Ashcroft Petition for Certiorari.pdf
- Appendix - Arar v. Ashcroft Petition for Certiorari.pdf
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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.