CCR Argues in Opening Brief That U.S. Officials Must Be Held Accountable for Conspiring to Torture Maher Arar

September 23, 2008, New York – Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed an opening brief for rehearing en banc with the Second Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of Canadian rendition survivor Maher Arar. The filing follows the Court’s extremely rare order last month that the case will be heard en banc by 12-13 judges on the Second Circuit on December 9, 2008.  The Court acted sua sponte, that is, of its own accord without either party requesting a rehearing.

“Maher has been seeking justice long enough,” said CCR attorney Maria LaHood. “It is time for the court to do its job – to uphold the Constitution, the rule of law, and fundamental human rights.  Our country prides itself on a system of government in which the judiciary has the duty to check unbridled Executive power – the U.S. officials who sent Maher to Syria to be tortured must be held accountable.”    

CCR’s opening brief argues that national security and foreign policy concerns should not prevent Mr. Arar from obtaining justice and holding U.S. officials accountable for conspiring to have him tortured and arbitrarily detained, as courts regularly review government action that implicates national security.  CCR’s submission also asserts that Mr. Arar’s due process rights were violated because U.S. officials affirmatively obstructed his access to court to prevent judicial interference with their conspiracy to subject him to torture.   
Mr. Arar and CCR seek to hold accountable the high-level administration officials responsible for sending him to be tortured and detained in Syria for a year - a practice known as extraordinary rendition.  In 2002, Mr. Arar, a Canadian citizen, was detained at a New York airport on his way home from a family trip. He was interrogated by U.S. officials about alleged links to al-Qaeda and was prevented from getting assistance from a lawyer. He was then delivered to Syria, a country renowned for torture. Mr. Arar was interrogated, brutally tortured and held in a grave-like cell in Syria for over ten months. No country, including the U.S., has ever charged him with any crime.

CCR originally filed the case in the Eastern District of New York in January 2004; the first ruling, in February 2006, dismissed the case because letting it proceed might harm national security and foreign relations. CCR appealed the decision, arguing before a three-judge panel in November 2007, but the Court of Appeals issued a 2-1 decision in June 2008 along similar lines. The dissenting judge found that the majority decision gives federal officials the license to “violate constitutional rights with virtual impunity.”

In stark contrast to the response of the U.S. government, the Canadian government conducted an exhaustive inquiry in response to public outcry, found that Mr. Arar had no connection to terrorism, and, in January 2007, apologized to him for its role in what happened and awarded him $10 million compensation.

For more information on Maher Arar’s case, see the Arar v. Ashcroft case page.

The Center for Constitutional Rights represents other victims of the Bush administration’s unlawful practices, 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, to Guantanamo detainees in the recent Supreme Court case.  For more information on CCR’s work on illegal detention, torture and abuse at Guantánamo Bay, visit CCR's website.

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


Last modified 

December 17, 2009