Obama Justice Department urges Supreme Court not to hear Maher Arar appeal

From the Center for Constitutional Rights, May 13:

Obama Administration Sides with Bush DOJ,
Asks Supreme Court to Keep Canadian Rendition Victim Maher Arar from His Day in Court

NEW YORK – Late yesterday, the Obama Department of Justice chose to weigh in for the first time on the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) case on behalf of Canadian citizen Maher Arar against US officials for their role in sending him to Syria to be tortured and detained for a year.

Lower courts concluded that Mr. Arar’s suit raised too many sensitive foreign policy and secrecy issues to allow his case to proceed. If the Court of Appeals decision is allowed to stand, say rights groups, the federal officials involved will remain free of any civil accountability for what they did to an innocent man.

The Obama Administration has opposed Mr. Arar’s petition for certiorari, arguing that his case was properly dismissed, and that the Supreme Court should not consider it. The Obama administration could have settled the case, recognizing the wrongs done to Mr. Arar—as Canada itself has done. Yet it chose to come to the defense of Bush administration officials, arguing that even if they conspired to send Maher Arar to torture, they should not be held accountable by the judiciary.

CCR attorneys say the Supreme Court should hear the case because the Court of Appeals’ decision not only contradicts other Supreme Court decisions but also raises issues of national importance by failing to hold federal officials accountable for violating Mr. Arar’s constitutional rights and preventing him from going to court to stop his removal to torture, a right explicitly provided by Congress.

Said Georgetown law professor and CCR cooperating attorney David Cole, “The Bush administration sent an innocent man to be tortured in Syria, and blocked his every opportunity to seek judicial protection. Now the Obama administration, instead of acknowledging the wrongs that were done, has continued its predecessor’s claim that there ought not be any accountability. We are deeply disappointed, and hope that the Supreme Court will step in and provide justice where the other branches have utterly failed to do so.”

Mr. Arar alleges that the US officials named in the suit conspired with Syrian officials to have him tortured in Syria, delivered Mr. Arar to his torturers, provided them with a dossier on him and questions to ask him, and obtained the answers tortured out of him. The legal arguments in the case revolve around whether U.S. officials can be sued for damages if that is the only remedy available to the victim, whether the officials acted “under color of foreign law” with Syria, and whether Mr. Arar has a right to pursue his claims under the Torture Victim Protection Act, among others.

Said CCR Senior Attorney Maria LaHood, “The Obama administration did not have to support Bush administration officials in opposing Maher’s quest for justice in the courts. But instead of apologizing to Maher and righting the wrongs of its predecessors, the Obama administration has chosen to hold onto the unbridled power it has been granted and obstruct accountability for torture. That is certainly not ‘change.'”

Maher Arar is not available to comment.

See our last posts on the torture scandals, the Obama administration‘s human rights betrayals, and the Maher Arar case.