SCOTUS to Arar: the USA Can Send You to Be Tortured

June 16, 2010

Maher Arar is reunited with his family after being released from Syria where he was held for almost a year without charge.

Maher Arar is a 34-year-old engineer and Canadian citizen born in Syria. According to Arar, in 2002, while he was in transit in New York City’s JFK Airport, after coming back from a vacation with his family, he was interrogated and detained by U.S. Officials alleging presumed links to al-Qaeda. Days later, he was secretly rendered to Syria, where he was held for almost one year under no formal charges, constant torture –including severe beating and the constant threat to be tortured harder— and was forced to falsely confess his links to the organization.

Most of the time he was held on a three feet wide, six feet deep and seven feet high cell, with no windows and with rats and cats everywhere.  After his release to Canada, the Government created a Commission of Inquiry that cleared Arar from all terrorist allegations and entitled him to compensation.

In 2004, in order to determine the responsibility of the U.S. Officials involved in his rendition to torture, Maher Arar filed a suit in the District Court for the Eastern District of New York against former Attorney General John Ashcroft, FBI Director Robert Mueller, and Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, as well as numerous Immigration Officials. However, the District Court of Brooklyn dismissed the suit, based on national security grounds. It held that the reasons why Arar was considered a member of al-Qaeda and transferred to Syria, were state secrets and that their disclosure would reveal intelligence methods, affecting national security and U.S. foreign relations.

In 2006, he appealed the decision before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the dismissal, and for those reasons, in 2010, he petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review his case.

On June 14, 2010, the Supreme Court rejected his writ of certiorari, eliminating Maher Arar’s last hope to find an answer in the U.S. judicial system for the “egregious wrong done” to him, as one of his lawyers said.

However, several doors may still be open for Arar. He may be able to pursue a claim under international tribunals, taking into account that the U.S. has ratified the International Convention against Torture, which imposes states the obligation to avoid rendering detainees to nations that practice torture against prisoners. In addition, President Obama and Congress could step up and ensure that Arar’s case is fully investigated, that those responsible for his treatment are prosecuted, and that he receives an apology and redress from the U.S. government for what was done to him.

The fact that it seems very unlikely for the President and Congress to take those steps underscores the vast difference between how the U.S. and Canada have handled the case. Not only has Canada apologized and compensated Arar, but also, according to, a Royal Canadian Mounted Police probe may bring charges to the U.S and Syrian Officials involved.