John Ashcroft Sued by CCR for Torture

CCR, on behalf of Canadian citizen Maher Arar, sues Attorney General John Ashcroft and other U.S. officials for sending him to be tortured in Syria.

On January 22, 2004, CCR filed a constitutional and human rights case in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York challenging the decision by federal officials to send Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen, to Syria for torture and interrogation. The claims in the lawsuit include violations of Mr. Arar's right to due process under the U.S. Constitution, his right to choose a country of removal other than one in which he would be tortured as guaranteed under the Torture Victims Protection Act, and his rights under international law.

On September 26, 2002, Maher Arar was seized by FBI and INS agents while transiting through JFK Airport to a connecting flight home from a family vacation. After holding Mr. Arar in harsh and punitive conditions, coercively interrogating him for hours on end, and depriving him of contact with his family, his consulate, and his lawyer, federal officials rushed Mr. Arar off in a private jet to Jordan and then on to Syria.
The lawsuit alleges that United States government officials made the decision to deport Mr. Arar to Syria with the full knowledge of the existence of state-sponsored torture in that country, and in direct contravention of the Convention Against Torture, a treaty signed and ratified by the United States in 1994. Syria is one of seven countries the Bush administration has designated as sponsors of state terrorism. Federal officials deported Mr. Arar to Syria under the Government’s “extraordinary renditions” program precisely because that country can and does use methods of interrogation that would not be legal or morally acceptable in this country or any other democratic country. Maher Arar is the first victim of an “extraordinary rendition” able to tell the story.

CCR Staff Comment on the lawsuit:

Barbara Olshansky, Deputy Legal Director at the Center for Constitutional Rights, said: “Maher Arar’s is a very significant case. It involves the torture and arbitrary detention of an innocent man seized and removed on the basis of uncorroborated and incorrect information, and puts to the test this Administration’s commitment to the eradication of torture and the promises made to the people of this country and the world when Congress signed and ratified the Convention Against Torture in 1994.”

CCR Human Rights Fellow Steven Watt, added, “This case represents another clear example of the unconstitutional, scorched-earth approach to counter-terrorism by the Justice Department which is making us all less safe, not more so.”

Said Michael Ratner, President of CCR’s Board of Directors, “Maher Arar’s case is not an isolated one. He is but one of many victims of the Administration’s acknowledged ‘policy’ of ‘extraordinary rendition.’ This case presents the first legal challenge to this policy in an attempt to end the practice of shipping persons suspected of terrorism to other countries for interrogation under torture in order to bypass international and domestic law.”


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Last modified 

October 23, 2007