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Magpie is a former journalist, attempted historian [No, you can't ask how her thesis is going], and full-time corvid of the lesbian persuasion. She keeps herself in birdseed by writing those bad computer manuals that you toss out without bothering to read them. She also blogs too much when she's not on deadline, both here and at Pacific Views.

Magpie roosts in Portland, Oregon, where she annoys her housemates (as well as her cats Medea, Whiskers, and Jane Doe) by attempting to play Irish music on the fiddle and concertina.

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Friday, February 17, 2006

Dubya Administration 1, Human Rights 0.

A US federal judge has ruled against Syrian-Canadian Maher Arar in a case involving Arar's claim that several former government officials — including Attorney General John Ashcroft, FBI Director Robert Mueller, and Homeland Security Tom Ridge — violated his right to due process and his right not to be tortured. Before I give details of the court decision, though, it'll help to go through the backstory.

Arar's case involves events that began in 2002, when he had a layover at New York's JFK airport on his way home to Canada after a visit to Tunisia. Arar, who was born in Syria, was detained by US authorities on suspicion of being connected to al-Qaeda, held incommunicado, and then shipped off to Syria. In Syria, he was tortured at the hands of the intelligence service for 10 months. Syria finally released Arar, saying that he had no connection to terrorists.

Maher Arar press conference, 2003

Maher Arar and wife Monia Mazigh at a press conference
after his release from a Syrian prison in 2003. [Photographer unknown]

Arar has not been charged with a crime in Canada or in the US. And he has not received any explanation from either government as to what information was used to justify his detention, and who decided to send him to Syria. The Canadian Parliament has ordered in inquiry into Arar's case, and the US has pointedly refused to cooperate with it.

In an attempt to get justice for Arar, the Center for Constitutional Rights filed suit against the US government on his behalf in 2004. CCR claims that US officials violated Arar's right to due process under the US Constitution and his right not to be tortured under color of foreign law as guaranteed by the Torture Victim Protection Act. As the case progressed, the US government has argued that Arar's lawsuit must be dismissed , arguing that the law suit must be dismissed because further action would result in the disclosure of sensitive information that would threaten national security or diplomatic relations if made public.

Yesterday, a federal judge in New York swallowed the government's argument whole:

Judge David Trager said he can't interfere in the case because it involves crucial national security and foreign relations issues in the anti-terror fight.

"The need for much secrecy can hardly be doubted," Trager wrote in his 88-page ruling.

"One need not have much imagination to contemplate the negative effect on our relations with Canada if discovery were to proceed in this case and were it to turn out that certain high Canadian officials had, despite public denials, acquiesced in Arar?s removal to Syria."

He also noted Congress has yet to take a position on court reviews of cases like Arar's, saying judges should be "hesitant" to hold officials liable for damages without "explicit direction" from legislators, "even if such conduct violates our treaty obligations or customary international law."

Not surprisingly, Arar finds the judge's decision 'very disappointing':

"I was not expecting the judge to dismiss the entire case. I was hoping that he could let at least part of it proceed to discovery," he said.

"It is giving the green light to the Bush administration and the CIA to continue with their practice of rendition. Basically they?re telling people . . . if you?re ever wronged by our politicians or intelligence people, you are on your own, good luck."

[For more on how rendition works, see this earlier post.]

The Center for Constitutional Rights has blasted the decision, calling it a 'dark day' for the US Constitution.

"This ruling sets frightening precedent. U.S. officials sent Maher Arar to Syria to be detained and interrogated through torture. To allow the Bush Administration to continue to evade accountability and continue to hide behind the smokescreen of 'national security' is to do grave and irreparable damage to the Constitution and the guarantee of human rights that people in this country could once be proud of," said Mr. Arar's Center for Constitutional Rights Attorney Maria LaHood....

"There can be little doubt that every official of the United States government knew that sending Mr. Arar to Syria was a clear violation of the U.S. Constitution, federal statutes, and international law. How can this Administration argue before a Federal Court Judge that its practice of outsourcing for interrogation under torture constitutes a state secret? This is a dark day indeed. We will not accept this decision and are committed to continuing our campaign to obtain the truth about what happened to Maher and demand accountability on behalf of the Administration," said Barbara Olshansky, Deputy Legal Director with the Center for Constitutional Rights.

CCR Cooperating Attorney and Georgetown Law School Professor David Cole said, "We don't think whether government officials can send a human being to another country to be tortured is a political question. It's a legal question, appropriate for resolution by the courts. Torture is absolutely prohibited by international law and by our law, and if courts are not willing to protect individuals like Arar, who will?"

Arar, meanwhile, has not decided whether he wants to appeal the decision:

"One thing I can tell you is, I will never give up.... Whether it's appealing, or going to the UN or something else, I don't know at this point. But I'll let this go like that, never."

You can read the full text of Judge Trager's dismissal of Arar's lawsuit here [PDF file]. The CCR's original complaint in Arar's case is here.

Via Toronto Star.

| | Posted by Magpie at 2:00 AM | Get permalink

Liar, liar, pants on fire!


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