16 June 2010

Justice For All

Remember this guy?
In the fall of 2002, Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen on his way home from Tunisia, was pulled out of line by US officials while changing planes at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport. He was locked up for twelve days, much of that time incommunicado, and harshly interrogated. When he was finally allowed to make a phone call, after a week in captivity, he called his mother in Canada, who found him a lawyer.

The lawyer saw Arar on Saturday. The very next night—a Sunday evening—immigration officials held an extraordinary six-hour hearing starting at 9 PM, orchestrated from Washington, D.C. When Arar asked to have his lawyer present, they told him that she had chosen not to participate in the hearing. In fact, the only “notice” they had provided was to leave a message on the lawyer’s office voice mail that Sunday night. She got the message Monday morning, and immediately called the immigration service. They told her, falsely, that Arar was being transferred to New Jersey, and she could contact him the next day. In fact, that night federal agents took him on a federally chartered jet to Jordan, and from there to Syria.

In Syria, Arar was handed over to intelligence officials who imprisoned him in a cell the size of a grave, three feet by six feet by seven feet. Syrian security agents tortured him, including beating him with an electric cable, while asking the same questions that FBI interrogators had been asking at JFK—was he a terrorist, was he linked to al-Qaeda, did he know various other persons thought to be associated with al-Qaeda? (The Syrian security forces are widely known for their use of torture, as the US State Department reports every year in its annual Human Rights Country Reports.) After a year, the Syrians released Arar, concluding that he had done nothing wrong.
Well, his case went before SCOTUS recently. Note that Canada already responded to their own part in Arar's case:
Canada responded to Arar’s case as a nation who has wronged a human being should. It established a blue-ribbon commission to investigate his case, which wrote a 1,100-page report fully exonerating Arar, and faulting Canadian officials for erroneously telling US officials that Arar was the target of an investigation into possible al-Qaeda links. ... Canada’s Parliament issued a unanimous apology, and the government paid Arar $10 million (Canadian) for its role in the wrong done to him.
But SCOTUS? They won't hear the case.
The Supreme Court’s refusal to consider the claims of Maher Arar, an innocent Canadian who was sent to Syria to be tortured in 2002, was a bitterly disappointing abdication of its duty to hold officials accountable for illegal acts. The Bush administration sent Mr. Arar to outsourced torment, but it was the Obama administration that urged this course of inaction.
Appalling behavior from the Bush administration, and behavior only slightly less appalling from the Obama administration.

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