The Supreme Court today denied a petition of review from Maher Arar, the Canadian and Syrian citizen who was abducted by the U.S. Government at a stopover at JFK Airport when returning to Canada in 2002, held incommunicado for two weeks, and then rendered to Syria, where he spent the next 10 months being tortured, even though — as everyone acknowledges — he was guilty of absolutely nothing. Arar sued the U.S. Government for what was done to him, and last November, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of his lawsuit on the ground that courts have no right to interfere in these decisions of the Executive Branch. That was the decision which the U.S. Supreme Court let stand today, ending Arar’s attempt to be compensated for what was done to him.
I’ve written in detail several times about Arar’s case, including in November when the appellate court upheld dismissal of his lawsuit; see here for how extreme his treatment has been at the hands of the U.S. Government, which was most responsible for his harrowing nightmare and then spent years fighting to deny him any remedy for what was done. I won’t reiterate those points here, as everything I have to say about the Supreme Court’s actions today was said in that November post (read the last part of that post, where I excerpted the court’s description of what was done to Arar). But I do want to highlight one aspect of this episode:
Just compare how the American and Canadian Governments responded to what everyone agrees was this horrific injustice. The Canadians, who cooperated with the U.S. in Arar’s abduction, conducted a sweeping investigation of what happened, and then publicly “issued a scathing report that faulted Canada and the United States for his deportation four years ago to Syria, where he was imprisoned and tortured,” and made clear he had done absolutely nothing wrong. Then, Canada’s Prime Minister personally and publicly apologized to Arar, and announced that Canada would compensate him with a payment of $ 8.5 million.
By stark contrast, the U.S. Government, which played a far more active role in his abduction and rendition to Syria, has never apologized to Arar (though individual members of Congress have). It has never clearly acknowledged wrongdoing (the only time it even hinted at this was when Condoleezza Rice called U.S. conduct in this case ”imperfect” — you think? — and generously added: “We do not think this case was handled as it should have been”). In fact, it continuously did the opposite of providing accountability: in response to Arar’s efforts to seek damages from the U.S. Government, the U.S. raised — under two successive administrations — a slew of technical arguments to persuade American courts not to hear his case at all, including the argument that what was done to Arar involved “state secrets” that prevented a judicial adjudication of his claims. The U.S. even continued to ban Arar from entering the U.S. long after it was acknowledged that he had done nothing wrong, thus preventing him for years from appearing before Congress or in the U.S. to talk about what was done to him. Indeed, after the Bush administration spent years arguing that courts were barred from hearing Arar’s case on the ground of “state secrets,” the Obama administration embraced those same arguments and then urged the Supreme Court not to hear his appeal.
As the Center for Constitutional Rights pointed out today:
The Obama administration could have settled the case, recognizing the wrongs done to Mr. Arar as Canada has done. . . . Yet the Obama administration 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.
So congratulations to the U.S. for winning the right to wrongfully abduct people and send them to their torture with total impunity. What a ringing statement about our country’s willingness to right the wrongs it commits and to provide access to our courts to those whose lives we devastate with our behavior. Andrew Sullivan today referred to “the cult of the inerrant leader”: the inability and refusal of our political class to acknowledge wrongdoing, apologize for it, and be held accountable. The Maher Arar case is a pathological illustration of that syndrome.