Blog of Rights

Canadian Torture and Rendition Victim Denied Supreme Court Review

By Suzanne Ito, ACLU at 5:36pm

It's déjà vu for another victim of the Bush administration's extraordinary rendition program.

This morning, the Supreme Court announced that it would not hear the case of extraordinary rendition victim Maher Arar. Arar, a Canadian citizen, was stopped in 2002 during a layover at JFK and subsequently sent to Syria, where he was confined in an underground grave-like cell for nearly a year and tortured. While detained, he was given limited access to Canadian government officials, but denied access to a lawyer. Without substantiating its claims, the Bush administration accused Arar of ties to al Qaeda. However, neither the U.S. nor Syria ever charged him with a crime during his incarceration, and 10 months and 10 days after his transfer to Syria for interrogation and torture, he was released without explanation or apology.

The Center for Constitutional Rights represented Arar in a case against U.S. officials for their participation in his rendition and torture. However, like the ACLU's case against the CIA on behalf of Khaled El-Masri, another victim of the extraordinary rendition program, Arar's case was dismissed by lower courts in the United States without any consideration of his claims of U.S. involvement.

And, just as in the El-Masri case in October 2007, today, the country's highest court, the U.S. Supreme Court, refused to hear Arar's case.

The Supreme Court, without comment, declined to hear the case despite the findings of a two-year long public inquiry in Canada into that country's officials' involvement in Arar's rendition and torture. In a report published in 2007, the inquiry found that Canadian officials had given "misleading information" to U.S. officials that led to Arar's arrest. The Canadian government subsequently apologized to Arar for its wrongdoing and awarded him $10 million in compensation.

The United States, in contrast, has done nothing to make amends for its unlawful actions. In October 2007, then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, admitted that the government had mishandled Arar's case. Yet no investigation has been conducted and no apology has been made. Indeed, the United States has added insult to injury by maintaining Arar's name on a watchlist prohibiting him from entering this country.

By refusing to review Arar's case, the Supreme Court has effectively slammed the door on the possibility of any U.S. official being held accountable before U.S. courts for Arar's rendition and torture. In a statement issued today, Arar said:

Today's decision eliminates my last bit of hope in the judicial system of the United States. When it comes to 'national security' matters the judicial system has willingly abandoned its sacred role of ensuring that no one is above the law. My case and other cases brought by human beings who were tortured have been thrown out by U.S. courts based on dubious government claims. Unless the American people stand up for justice they will soon see their hard-won civil liberties taken away from them as well.

June is Torture Awareness Month. Tell Attorney General Eric Holder to hold those who authorized torture and rendition accountable. Send him a message today.

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