Second Circuit to Re-Hear Extraordinary Rendition Case Today
The case of Maher Arar, the Canadian citizen arrested in New York and sent to Syria to be interrogated under torture, will be re-heard today by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York, sitting en banc.
As I reported earlier, the 34-year-old computer consultant of Syrian descent was apprehended by U.S. authorities in 2002 while he was changing planes at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, on his way home to Canada after visiting relatives in Tunisia.
After a harsh interrogation without access to counsel in New York, he was flown to Syria against his will, where he was kept in a tiny underground prison cell and tortured until he eventually “confessed” to training for terrorism in Afghanistan; in fact, he’d never even been there.
For those with a strong stomach, here’s the federal district court’s description of Arar’s early days in Syrian detention, which he claims was coordinated with US authorities:
During his first twelve days in Syrian detention, Arar was interrogated for eighteen hours per day and was physically and psychologically tortured. He was beaten on his palms, hips and lower back with a two-inch-thick electric cable. His captors also used their fists to beat him
on his stomach, face and back of his neck. He was subjected to excruciating pain and pleaded with his captors to stop, but they would not. He was placed in a room where he could hear the screams of other detainees being tortured and was told that he, too, would be placed in a
spine-breaking [*11] “chair,” hung upside down in a “tire” for beatings and subjected to electric shocks. To lessen his exposure to the torture, Arar falsely confessed, among other things, to having trained with terrorists in Afghanistan, even though he had never been to Afghanistan
and had never been involved in terrorist activity.
Arar was eventually deemed innocent and returned home to Canada in 2003, where the Canadian government confirmed that he’d done nothing wrong and apologized for its role in his arrest.
With the help of the Center for Constitutional Rights and Georgetown law professor David Cole, in 2004 Arar sued American officials in a U.S. federal court for sending him to Syria to be tortured. But his case was dismissed on the grounds that an investigation might reveal state secrets and harm national security. The court also ruled that, as a foreigner deported by immigration authorities, he had no right to challenge his treatment by the United States.
Although a three-judge panel of the Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling, holding that Arar has no right to sue federal officials no matter what was done to him, the full court of appeals in August made the highly unusual decision to re-hear the case. All 12 active judges of the court are scheduled to hear the arguments from both sides at 3 p.m. in New York. The argument will stream live on C-Span.org.
For more on the Arar case and the US government’s program of extraordinary rendition, check out Jane Mayer’s excellent piece on the subject in the New Yorker.