Arar v. Ashcroft et al Historic Case

At a Glance

Date Filed: 

January 22, 2004

Current Status 

On June 14, 2010, the Supreme Court denied Mr. Arar's petition for certiorari to review the Second Circuit Court of Appeals' en banc decision dismissing his case, ending his case in U.S. courts.  Mr. Arar has continued his efforts to seek accountability for those complicit in his torture; in September 2015, Canada announced charges against Syrian intelligence officer Col. George Salloum, who tortured Mr. Arar.

Co-Counsel 

DLA Piper US LLP

Client(s) 

Maher Arar

Case Description 

Arar v. Ashcroft was a federal lawsuit challenging the rendition to torture of Canadian citizen Maher Arar by U.S. government officials. Mr. Arar was detained at JFK airport in September 2002 while on his way home to Canada from abroad. He was interrogated, detained for two weeks, denied access to a court and meaningful access to counsel, and secretly rendered to Syria where he was tortured and held in a grave-like underground cell for over ten months. He was never charged with a crime.   

Mr. Arar’s lawsuit was brought in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York against Attorney General John Ashcroft, Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, FBI Director Robert Mueller, and several U.S. immigration officials for violating his constitutional right to due process and the Torture Victim Protection Act. Mr. Arar alleged that the officials violated his Fifth Amendment rights by conspiring to subject him to arbitrary detention and torture in Syria and by blocking his access to court to ensure that he could not stop them.

The U.S. government official defendants challenged the suit, claiming that even if Mr. Arar’s allegations were true, he had no judicial remedy. The U.S. government also asked that the court dismiss the case, arguing it would expose “state secrets” and harm national security. In 2006, Judge Trager dismissed Mr. Arar’s claims, finding that “national security” and “foreign policy” considerations prevented him from holding U.S. officials liable. Mr. Arar appealed this decision to a three-judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which affirmed the dismissal 2-1 in June 2008, agreeing with the lower court that Mr. Arar’s claims would interfere with national security.  

In an extremely rare move, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals decided that Mr. Arar’s appeal would be reheard by the full active court in December 2008. On November 2, 2009, the full Court of Appeals dismissed the case 7-4, concluding that in cases of extraordinary rendition, it is not the court’s role to decide whether U.S. officials can be held accountable, because of foreign policy, national security, and secrecy concerns. 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, read CCR's factsheet and report on his rendition and watch Mr. Arar speak about his experience.

Case Timeline

September 1, 2015
Canada announces charges in absentia against Syrian intelligence officer who tortured Arar
September 1, 2015
Canada announces charges in absentia against Syrian intelligence officer who tortured Arar

The RCMP announces it will attempt to extradite Syrian intelligence officer Col. George Salloum to be tried for the torture of Maher Arar. The news follows a 2005 complaint launched with the RCMP by Mr. Arar seeking Salloum’s prosecution. Mr. Arar’s wife, Monia Mazigh, reads a statement on his behalf: "It is my hope that Col. George Salloum will be found alive, arrested, and will be extradited to Canada to face Canadian justice…Since I launched my complaint in 2005, I gave the RCMP investigating team, during the many interviews I had with them, the information they needed to advance their investigation.” Mazigh says, "People wouldn't even admit he was tortured. This is a clear message to my husband — and to whoever denied that torture happened — that this is real and that you cannot commit torture [with] impunity. It is symbolic, but at the same time, it is personal."

April 5, 2015
Former CIA counterrorism officer reveals U.S. knew Mr. Arar was innocent
April 5, 2015
Former CIA counterrorism officer reveals U.S. knew Mr. Arar was innocent

In an article in the Canadian Press, John Kiriakou says “I can tell you that a lot of people inside the CIA objected to this.” He continues: “I remember hearing some of the conversations – that, ‘This is the wrong guy, this is a mistake.’ And then one officer in particular (was) saying, ‘No, this is not the wrong guy. We’re going to take him.’ She was certain that we had the right guy. That Maher Arar was an al-Qaeda whatever-he-was – a facilitator, or whatever – and we were moving forward with it.”

May 21, 2012

CCR, other human rights organizations submit petition with 60,000 signatures to Obama seeking apology to Mr. Arar

May 21, 2012

CCR, other human rights organizations submit petition with 60,000 signatures to Obama seeking apology to Mr. Arar

June 14, 2010

Arar announces Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) are investigating U.S. and Syrian officials for their role in his rendition

June 14, 2010

Arar announces Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) are investigating U.S. and Syrian officials for their role in his rendition

June 14, 2010

Supreme Court denies petition for certiorari, ending Mr. Arar’s case in U.S. courts

June 14, 2010

Supreme Court denies petition for certiorari, ending Mr. Arar’s case in U.S. courts

May 24, 2010
CCR files reply brief and lodges letter from Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs with court
May 12, 2010

Defendants file their briefs in opposition to Maher Arar's petition for certiorari

February 1, 2010

CCR petitions Supreme Court for review of Second Circuit Court of Appeals' en banc decision dismissing Mr. Arar's case

February 1, 2010

CCR petitions Supreme Court for review of Second Circuit Court of Appeals' en banc decision dismissing Mr. Arar's case

November 2, 2009

Second Circuit Court of Appeals en banc affirms district court’s decision dismissing case

November 2, 2009

Second Circuit Court of Appeals en banc affirms district court’s decision dismissing case

December 9, 2008

Oral argument takes place

November 12, 2008
CCR files reply brief as well as notice of lodging FOIA document pertaining to case
November 12, 2008
CCR files reply brief as well as notice of lodging FOIA document pertaining to case
October 2008

Multiple groups, individuals file amicus briefs in support of Mr. Arar’s brief for rehearing en banc

September 23, 2008

CCR files opening appellate brief for rehearing en banc

August 12, 2008

Second Circuit sua sponte issues order that case be reheard en banc

August 12, 2008

Second Circuit sua sponte issues order that case be reheard en banc

July 23, 2008
Attorney General Mukasey testifies before Congress that DOJ will not be appointing special counsel “at this time”
July 23, 2008
Attorney General Mukasey testifies before Congress that DOJ will not be appointing special counsel “at this time”
July 10, 2008
Members of Congress write to Attorney General Michael Mukasey requesting he appoint outside special counsel to investigate and prosecute any crimes committed by U.S. officials in sending Mr. Arar to Syria
July 10, 2008
Members of Congress write to Attorney General Michael Mukasey requesting he appoint outside special counsel to investigate and prosecute any crimes committed by U.S. officials in sending Mr. Arar to Syria
June 30, 2008
Second Circuit dismisses Mr. Arar’s Torture Victim Protection Act claims by finding federal officials would have to have acted under control of Syrian officials to be held liable
June 30, 2008
Second Circuit dismisses Mr. Arar’s Torture Victim Protection Act claims by finding federal officials would have to have acted under control of Syrian officials to be held liable
June 5, 2008
Inspector General issues report
June 5, 2008
Inspector General issues report
The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the Department of Homeland Security issues its report on the actions of U.S. immigration officials surrounding the decision to send Maher Arar to Syria. Inspector General (IG) Richard Skinner testifies before subcommittees of the House Foreign Affairs and Judiciary Committees to answer questions about the report.
November 9, 2007
Appeal is argued before Second Circuit Court of Appeals
November 9, 2007
Appeal is argued before Second Circuit Court of Appeals
October 24, 2007
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice admits during House Foreign Affairs Committee Hearing that U.S. government mishandled case of Maher Arar
October 24, 2007
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice admits during House Foreign Affairs Committee Hearing that U.S. government mishandled case of Maher Arar
October 18, 2007
Mr. Arar testifies via video-link before House Joint Committee Hearing convened to discuss his rendition by U.S. to Syria for interrogation under torture
October 18, 2007
Mr. Arar testifies via video-link before House Joint Committee Hearing convened to discuss his rendition by U.S. to Syria for interrogation under torture
April 19, 2007
CCR submits reply brief to Second Circuit Court of Appeals
April 19, 2007
CCR submits reply brief to Second Circuit Court of Appeals
February 22, 2007
CCR files response, arguing Mr. Arar could prove his case without privileged information, and even if such information were necessary to establish a defense, procedural safeguards could protect it
February 22, 2007
CCR files response, arguing Mr. Arar could prove his case without privileged information, and even if such information were necessary to establish a defense, procedural safeguards could protect it
February 22, 2007
Defendants file six briefs asking Second Circuit Court of Appeals not to allow Mr. Arar’s case to proceed
February 22, 2007
Defendants file six briefs asking Second Circuit Court of Appeals not to allow Mr. Arar’s case to proceed
January 16, 2007
CCR submits reply brief in support of motion for judicial notice with Second Circuit Court of Appeals
January 16, 2007
CCR submits reply brief in support of motion for judicial notice with Second Circuit Court of Appeals
January 6, 2007
Canada reaches settlement with Mr. Arar
January 6, 2007
Canada reaches settlement with Mr. Arar

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologizes to Mr. Arar and his family for their “terrible ordeal” and announces payment of $10 million in compensation as part of the agreement to settle his case against the Canadian government.

January 4, 2007
Defendants file response to motion for judicial notice with Second Circuit Court of Appeals
January 4, 2007
Defendants file response to motion for judicial notice with Second Circuit Court of Appeals
December 21, 2006
Four amicus briefs are filed in support of Mr. Arar's appeal
December 21, 2006
Four amicus briefs are filed in support of Mr. Arar's appeal
December 12, 2006
CCR attorneys file appeal in Second Circuit on behalf of Mr. Arar
December 12, 2006
CCR attorneys file appeal in Second Circuit on behalf of Mr. Arar
September 18, 2006
Canadian Commission of Inquiry into the Actions of Canadian Officials in Relation to Maher Arar, established by Canadian government, issues its report
September 18, 2006
Canadian Commission of Inquiry into the Actions of Canadian Officials in Relation to Maher Arar, established by Canadian government, issues its report
The Commissioner concludes "categorically that there is no evidence to indicate that Mr. Arar has committed any offence or that his activities constitute a threat to the security of Canada." Canadian investigators, with U.S. cooperation, exhaustively investigated Mr. Arar, and found no information that could implicate Mr. Arar in terrorist activities. The Commission also finds no evidence that Canadian officials acquiesced in the U.S. decision to detain and remove Mr. Arar to Syria, but that it is very likely that the U.S. relied on inaccurate and unfair information about Mr. Arar that was provided by Canadian officials.
September 12, 2006
CCR files notice of appeal in Second Circuit Court of Appeals
September 12, 2006
CCR files notice of appeal in Second Circuit Court of Appeals
August 17, 2006
Final judgment is entered
August 17, 2006
Final judgment is entered
July 14, 2006
CCR files notice of intent not to replead
July 14, 2006
CCR files notice of intent not to replead
CCR files notice of intent not to replead, but to instead stand on the allegations of his complaint, and therefore appeal the entire February 16 order.
July 5, 2006
Judge Trager denies Rule 54(b) motion for permission to immediately appeal
July 5, 2006
Judge Trager denies Rule 54(b) motion for permission to immediately appeal
April 3, 2006
CCR files motion requesting permition to appeal
April 3, 2006
CCR files motion requesting permition to appeal
CCR and co-counsel DLA Piper US LLP file a motion requesting that they be permitted to immediately appeal Mr. Arar's "rendition" claims to the Second Circuit without waiting for resolution of his U.S. detention claim.
February 16, 2006
District court dismisses case
February 16, 2006
District court dismisses case
Judge David Trager of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York dismisses Mr. Arar's claims against U.S. government officials for "rendering" him to Syria to be tortured and arbitrarily detained.
April 4, 2005
Defendants file reply in support of their invocation of state secrets privilege
April 4, 2005
Defendants file reply in support of their invocation of state secrets privilege
March 15, 2005
CCR files response
March 15, 2005
CCR files response
CCR argues that Mr. Arar could prove his case without privileged information, and even if such information were necessary to establish a defense, procedural safeguards could protect it.
March 14, 2005
Defendants file reply in support of motion to dismiss U.S. government from case
March 14, 2005
Defendants file reply in support of motion to dismiss U.S. government from case
January 18, 2005
U.S. government moves to dismiss case
January 18, 2005
U.S. government moves to dismiss case
The government asserts the “state secrets” privilege, claiming that the reasons Mr. Arar was deemed a member of Al Qaeda and sent to Syria, instead of Canada, are “state secrets”.
January 14, 2005
CCR files opposition to motion to dismiss
January 14, 2005
CCR files opposition to motion to dismiss
September 17, 2004
Defendants file motion to dismiss
September 17, 2004
Defendants file motion to dismiss
January 22, 2004
CCR files lawsuit on behalf of Mr. Arar in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York
January 22, 2004
CCR files lawsuit on behalf of Mr. Arar in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York
Defendants include Attorney General John Ashcroft, FBI Director Robert Mueller, and Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, as well as several U.S. immigration officials.