On May 3, 2007, Time Magazine announced that Canadian rendition victim and Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) client Maher Arar has made this year's Time 100, a "list of 100 men and women whose power, talent, or moral example is transforming our world." Mr. Arar is the first victim of the Bush administration's practice of extraordinary rendition to come forward and contest his treatment in a U.S. court.
Time calls its list of 100 people "the most influential people on the planet." The tributes included in the magazine, due out next week, are written by other prominent figures; Maher's piece is by Senator Patrick Leahy, who writes, "The Bush administration refuses to acknowledge any responsibility, instead offering the tepid explanation that Syrian officials assured the U.S. that Arar would not be tortured. These are the same Syrian officials with whom our government now says it will not negotiate because they are not trustworthy. Maher Arar's case stands as a sad symbol of how we have been too willing to sacrifice our core principles to overarching government power in the name of security, when doing so only undermines the principles we stand for and makes us less safe."
"I am very honored to have been included on the Time 100 list," said Maher Arar. "I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to all the people and organizations that have supported me and my family throughout this struggle for justice."
Mr. Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian citizen, was detained at J.F.K. Airport in September 2002 while he was changing planes on his way home to Canada. The Bush administration labeled him a member of Al Qaeda and sent him to Syrian intelligence authorities renowned for torture, rather than home to Canada. While imprisoned in Syria, Mr. Arar was interrogated under torture and held in a tiny underground grave-like cell for more than 10 months.
Mr. Arar asks, "Why did the U.S. government decide to send me to Syria knowing that I would be tortured? This crucial question has yet to be answered."
In January 2004, just three months after Mr. Arar returned home to Canada from his year-long nightmare, CCR filed a suit on his behalf against John Ashcroft and other U.S. officials.
"While Maher Arar is recognized as a world hero for courageously fighting for justice against the United States government 'leaders' who had him tortured, the so-called leaders have hidden behind secrecy and smeared Maher's name to protect themselves from accountability," said Center for Constitutional Rights Senior Attorney Maria LaHood. "In Canada, Maher's quest for justice brought about an exhaustive inquiry exposing the Canadian government's responsibility, which it has acknowledged and apologized for. Yet U.S. officials still claim that national security and foreign relations are at risk if Maher's lawsuit proceeds here."
A Canadian Commission of Inquiry conducted after Mr. Arar was released found that there was no evidence that Mr. Arar was implicated in terrorist activities. Canadian officials have also reviewed the U.S. government's secret dossier on Mr. Arar and say it contains no new information. In January 2007, the Canadian government issued an apology and a multi-million dollar settlement of his Canadian lawsuit.
Mr. Arar's U.S. case, Arar v. Ashcroft, continues to move forward. After it was dismissed in February 2006 on "national security" and "foreign policy" grounds, the Center for Constitutional Rights filed an appeal in the Second Circuit in December 2006. The parties' briefs have been submitted to the Court of Appeals, which has not yet scheduled oral argument. The firm of DLA Piper US LLP is co-counsel in Arar v. Ashcroft.
LaHood continued, "Justice demands that U.S. courts allow Maher's case to proceed to hold those people in our government who were complicit in his torture accountable, and to ensure that the absolute prohibition on torture is enforced, so that no one else will have to endure what he did."
The United States government prohibits Mr. Arar from coming to the United States, so he will not be able to attend Time's ceremony.
Mr. Arar is not available for comment as he is preparing for his PhD examinations. Maria LaHood, Maher's lawyer, will be speaking on his behalf.
The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, The Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.