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CCR Argues Appeal of Rendition Victim Maher Arar: U.S. Officials Must Be Held Accountable for Sending Him to Torture in Syria

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CONTACT:
Jen Nessel, press@ccr-ny.org
David Lerner, Riptide Communications, 212.260.5000

November 9, 2007, New York, NY – Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) argued before the Court of Appeals that rendition victim Maher Arar’s case against U.S. officials should be reinstated.

“Maher’s case must be allowed to proceed,” said CCR Senior Attorney Maria LaHood. “He deserves justice to right the tremendous wrong our government did in delivering him to torture, and it is incumbent on our courts to provide that justice.”

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. The Canadian government, after an exhaustive public inquiry, also 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. Canadian officials have also reviewed the U.S. government’s secret dossier on Mr. Arar and say it contains no additional evidence.

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 “outsourcing torture.” In February 2006, Judge David Trager of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York dismissed the case, finding that national security and foreign policy considerations prevented him from holding the officials liable for carrying out an extraordinary rendition, even if such conduct violates our treaty obligations or customary international law.

"The Canadian government did the right thing when they accepted responsibility, apologized to Mr. Arar, and compensated him for this terrible injustice. So far, the U.S. government has refused to do the same. Nothing can undo what was done to him, but he is entitled to his day in court," said Co-Counsel Joshua Sohn of DLA Piper US LLP.

On October 18, Maher 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 the hearing – the first time Maher has 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 the case of Maher Arar.

“Our government has tried to hide behind claims of national security to avoid accountability for what they did to Maher,” said CCR Board Member David Cole, who argued the appeal before the court. “But today’s case is a chance to shed light on a practice that is both illegal and immoral.”

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.

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.