Eight years ago, a Canadian citizen named Maher Arar was arrested by federal officials at Kennedy International Airport in New York based on information from Canadian law enforcement — later determined to be incorrect – that he was somehow connected to al Qaeda. After being held in the U.S. for nearly two weeks, the government had him sent to Syria. At Washington’s direction, Arar was detained for nearly a year by the Syrians and, as expected, severely tortured. After he was finally freed, Arar sued the Department of Justice.
His case seeking damages wound its way through the federal courts for years, and just this week came to a shameful end. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to review a lower court dismissal of Arar’s claim, in effect ruling that the U.S. government is permitted to send a person off to be tortured by a surrogate government, based on apparently erroneous information, and never be held accountable. The High Court bought into the Obama Administration’s argument that having to respond to Arar’s allegations in court proceedings might damage our diplomatic relations, could impugn the motives of government officials, and possibly harm “national security.” The federal government has refused to even apologize to Arar for its actions.
The current administration’s invocation of this “state secrets” doctrine to avoid having to respond to lawsuits against it that might prove difficult or embarassing in terms of our national security and diplomatic policies, continues the policy of its predecessor Republican administration.
Mr. Arar has fared considerably better in Canada. Our northern neighbor has admitted its error, officially apologized to Arar, and compensated him $10.2 million. Interestingly, the United States has a Bill of Rights designed to protect individuals against being treated in a manner such as Arar suffered; however, such rights mean little without judges with the courage and understanding to back them up. The lesson here? If you’re going to be sent somewhere to be tortured, you’re better off being sent there by the Canadian government than the U.S.