After returning to his home in Ottawa, Arar sought justice. He filed near-identical lawsuits in both Canada and the United States. In Canada, after an investigation, a judge confirmed that Arar had undergone intensive torture while in Syria. It was also found that the initial allegation that Mr. Arar was a probable al-Qaeda terrorist had no substance. The judiciary also found that Canadian officials were 'unintentionally complicit' in overseas torture. A mediation was held with federal government officials and a near-record $10.5-million in damages was awarded to Arar and his family.
Despite the fact that both the Canadian and U.S. lawsuits were essentially the same -- and that the U.S. was actually responsible for Arar’s extraordinary rendition -- the lawsuit played out very differently in the U.S. courts. Firstly, a federal judge dismissed Arar’s U.S. suit in 2006, a decision that was affirmed in 2008 by a three-judge appeals panel. Then, in a surprising move, the full bench of judges on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals decided to hear the case. The 59-page ruling, released last week, concluded that Arar could not sue the officials involved in his rendition, namely former Attorney General John Ashcroft. The Second Circuit said that if a civil damages remedy were to be created, Congress would have to do it.
In the majority opinion, Judge Jacobs wrote that it was for the executive branch to “decide how to implement extraordinary rendition, and for the elected members of Congress — and not for us as judges — to decide whether an individual may seek compensation” from officials for a constitutional violation. Funny, that sounds exactly like what the judiciary should be doing.
Judge Jacobs defended the court’s stance by saying that allowing suits against policymakers in rendition cases would “affect diplomacy, foreign policy and the security of the nation.” Is no one concerned with the integrity of our nation? Finally, Justice Jacobs said that administrations had practiced rendition since at least 1995, and judicial review would “offend the separation of powers.” Again, judicial review is supposed to provide the separation of powers, and should not offend it in any way.
The four judges who disagreed with the ruling were not shy about expressing their disappointment. Judge Calabresi wrote, “I believe that when the history of this distinguished court is written, today’s majority decision will be viewed with dismay.” He asserted that the majority opinion had gone astray in its “utter subservience to the executive branch.” Judge Calabresi further expressed his “conviction that in calmer times, wise people will ask themselves: How could such able and worthy judges have done that?” The American public should be asking that question now.
The Center for Constitutional Rights, which has spearheaded Arar’s case, issued the following statement on Arar’s behalf:
“After seven years of pain and hard struggle it was my hope that the court system would listen to my plea and act as an independent body from the executive branch. Unfortunately… the court system in the United States has become more or less a tool that the executive branch can easily manipulate through unfounded allegations and fear mongering. If anything, this decision is a loss to all Americans and to the rule of law.”
There is a good chance that Arar and his lawyers will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court; let’s keep our fingers crossed that our nation’s highest court will decide to protect the victim, not the aggressor.
(Photo by erokCom.)