For Immediate Release
Obama Administration Sides with Bush DOJ, Asks Supreme Court to Keep Canadian Rendition Victim Maher Arar from His Day in Court
NEW YORK - Late yesterday, the Obama Department of Justice chose to weigh in for
the first time on the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) case on
behalf of Canadian citizen Maher Arar against U.S. officials for their
role in sending him to Syria to be tortured and detained for a year.
Lower courts concluded that Mr. Arar’s suit raised too many sensitive
foreign policy and secrecy issues to allow his case to proceed. If the
Court of Appeals decision is allowed to stand, say rights groups, the
federal officials involved will remain free of any civil accountability
for what they did to an innocent man.
The Obama Administration has opposed Mr. Arar’s petition for
certiorari, arguing that his case was properly dismissed, and that the
Supreme Court should not consider it. The Obama administration could
have settled the case, recognizing the wrongs done to Mr. Arar – as
Canada itself has done. Yet it chose to come to the defense of Bush
administration officials, arguing that even if they conspired to send
Maher Arar to torture, they should not be held accountable by the
CCR attorneys say the Supreme Court should hear the case because the
Court of Appeals’ decision not only contradicts other Supreme Court
decisions but also raises issues of national importance by failing to
hold federal officials accountable for violating Mr. Arar’s
constitutional rights and preventing him from going to court to stop
his removal to torture, a right explicitly provided by Congress.
Said Georgetown law professor and CCR cooperating attorney David Cole,
“The Bush administration sent an innocent man to be tortured in Syria,
and blocked his every opportunity to seek judicial protection. Now the
Obama administration, instead of acknowledging the wrongs that were
done, has continued its predecessor’s claim that there ought not be any
accountability. We are deeply disappointed, and hope that the Supreme
Court will step in and provide justice where the other branches have
utterly failed to do so.”
Mr. Arar alleges that the U.S. officials named in the suit conspired
with Syrian officials to have him tortured in Syria, delivered Mr. Arar
to his torturers, provided them with a dossier on him and questions to
ask him, and 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, whether
the officials acted “under color of foreign law” with Syria, and
whether Mr. Arar has a right to pursue his claims under the Torture
Victim Protection Act, among others.
Said CCR Senior Attorney Maria LaHood, “The Obama
administration did not have to support Bush administration officials in
opposing Maher’s quest for justice in the courts. But instead of
apologizing to Maher and righting the wrongs of its predecessors, the
Obama administration has chosen to hold onto the unbridled power it has
been granted and obstruct accountability for torture. That is
certainly not ‘change.’”
Maher Arar is not available to comment.
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.”
For more information, including a timeline, links to videos, court papers and other documents, go to Mr. Arar's case page. Additional information may be found by entering the search term “Arar” above.
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 Guantánamo
detainees and their families.
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.