Thirteen years after he was tortured and held in a Syrian grave-like underground cell for nearly a year, Maher Arar has won a victory in his pursuit of accountability. Last week Canada formally charged Col. George Salloum, a Syrian official responsible for Maher’s torture, and is calling for his extradition. Maher became the face of the Bush Administration’s so-called “extraordinary rendition” program, in which the U.S. handed people over to foreign governments to be interrogated under torture. We have been seeking accountability for Maher's torture since 2004, when we filed a lawsuit against John Ashcroft and other U.S. officials responsible for sending him to Syria to be tortured.
Maher 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 court and meaningful access to counsel, and secretly rendered to Syria where he was tortured and detained. He was never charged with a crime, and was released to Canada a year later. In 2009, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that it is not the court’s role to decide whether U.S. officials can be held accountable for an extraordinary rendition because it would require probing government secrets and might “inhibit” foreign policy and affect national security. In 2010, the Supreme Court refused to review this ruling (after the Obama administration opposed review), ending 6 years of litigation.
Canada’s charges against Salloum are a good first step, but justice will not be fully served until U.S. officials are held accountable. Canada should not shy away from pursuing these officials as well. And the Obama administration, which has never apologized to Maher, much less sought criminal accountability against U.S. officials who conspired in his torture, must finally do the bare minimum and apologize to this man for the irreparable wrong done to him.