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U.S. Supreme Court quashes Arar appeal to sue Bush officials Add to ...

Maher Arar's decade-long legal odyssey appears to have come to an end, with no redress nor apology from the United States, and no American official being ever held accountable for his ordeal.

The U.S. Supreme Court has decided not to hear the Syrian-Canadian's claim that he was sent to torture by Washington's agents as a trumped-up terrorism suspect. The nation's top court had been the last, best hope for a remedy for Mr. Arar south-of-the-border.

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"Today's decision eliminates my last bit of hope in the judicial system of the United States," Mr. Arar said in a statement issued Monday by the U.S. Center for Constitutional Rights, the civil-liberties group that was fighting his U.S. lawsuit.

"When it comes to 'national security' matters the judicial system has willingly abandoned its sacred role of ensuring that no one is above the law," Mr. Arar's said in his CCR-circulated statement. "My case and other cases brought by human beings who were tortured have been thrown out by U.S. courts based on dubious government claims."

The Commissioner of a Canadian federal inquiry found that Mr. Arar was wrongfully sent to torture by the U.S. agents in 2001, and that RCMP missteps laid the foundation for this injustice. Following Mr. Justice Dennis O'Connor's 2007 findings, Mr. Arar and his family were awarded a near-record $10.5-million settlement in damages paid for by Canadian taxpayers.

Mr. Arar, a telecommunications engineer, now publishes a Web Journal, Prism, that casts itself as watchdog for national-security agencies.

Despite the apologies and redress extended to Mr. Arar from Ottawa, Canadian agents always had a more peripheral role in his ordeal. Federal security agencies were faulted mostly for exchanges with U.S. counterparts that flagged him as a terrorism suspect. Even Prime Minister Stephen Harper has urged Washington to "come clean" about its role in the case.

A year after 9/11, U.S. agents arrested Mr. Arar in a New York airport, as he was flying from Tunisia to Canada. They held him as a hostile alien for two weeks and ultimately branded him an "al-Qaeda suspect" prior to hustling him on to a Gulfstream jet.

That jet had been leased by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and, after being flown to the Middle East in shackles, Mr. Arar spent most of the next year of his life in a prison in his homeland. In Syria, as he was interrogated about his relationship to other Canadian Arabs who had already ended up jailed there.

The O'Connor Commission supported Mr. Arar's statement that he was beaten with two-inch-thick electric cable as the Syrian jailers asked him questions.

Once freed in 2002, Mr. Arar returned to Canada - a country he immigrated to as a teenager - to publicly appeal for justice. He said he had never been to Afghanistan, and had never met anyone who was a terrorist or who was part of al-Qaeda.

While the Canadian population, and to an extent, the U.S. Congress, have lent sympathy to Mr. Arar's cause, U.S. courts have been more wary.

The U.S. suit, known as Arar v. Ashcroft, alleges that top Bush Administration officials systematically "rendered" terrorism suspects to face torture in states where U.S. laws did not apply. This practice became known as "extraordinary rendition."

Yet the 2004 suit was never decided on the merits. Rather, lower courts ruled that that it was the role of Congress, and not judges, to rein in the President and his agents. This is part of a broader pattern: U.S. courts have proven deferential to political bodies and state secrecy in civil suits flowing from terrorism investigations.

The end of the Bush era did not mean the end of Washington's opposition to the Arar suit. Civil libertarians are angry that U.S. President Barack Obama did not distance himself from his predecessor.

"The Obama administration chose to come to the defense of Bush administration officials, arguing that even if they conspired to send Mr. Arar to torture, they should not be held accountable by the judiciary," the CCR said in a statement.

CCR attorney David Cole said that "the courts have regrettably refused to right the egregious wrong done to Maher Arar. But the courts have never questioned that a wrong was done. They have simply said that it is up to the political branches to fashion a remedy.

"We are deeply disappointed that the courts have shirked their responsibility."

Mr. Arar's Syrian detention is actually part of a much larger chain of arrests and interrogations effected after 9/11.

Related cases include the Syrian detentions of two other Canadian Arabs, Abdullah Almalki and Ahmad Abou El Maati, who were also found by a Canadian commission of inquiry to have been investigated in Ontario by the RCMP prior to being tortured in Syria.

Mr. Justice Frank Iacobucci ruled these two men were never the "imminent threats" they had been made out to be by the Canadian authorities.

Unlike Mr. Arar, the other two men say they spent time in Afghanistan in the 1990s. But they also deny links to terrorism. The Harper government is digging in against their ongoing civil suits, and has so far refused to pay the two men a penny in damages.

A fourth related case involved the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation's arrest of Mohamed Kamal Elzahabi - an obscure Lebanon-born Islamist guerrilla who spent five years jailed and under close surveillance in the United States, before he was deported late last year.

Prior to that, from a Texas prison, Mr. Elzahabi told The Globe and Mail he feared he would be tortured if sent to his homeland.

Follow on Twitter: @colinfreeze

 

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