Maher Arar May Get to Sue His Abducters


The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit has resurrected Maher Arar's lawsuit over the U.S. government's decision to ship him off to his native Syria, where he was imprisoned for a year and tortured. Arar, a Canadian telecommunications engineer, was mistakenly linked to Al Qaeda by the Canadian government, which shared this misinformation with U.S. officials, prompting them to detain Arar while he was switching planes at JFK in 2002. While the Canadian government has apologized to Arar and paid him $10 million in compenation, the most the U.S. government has been able to muster was Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's concession last year that the case was not "handled as it should have been." In June the 2nd Circuit dismissed Arar's lawsuit, which names former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, FBI Director Robert Mueller, and former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge as defendants. Two judges on the three-judge panel concluded that U.S. courts did not have jurisdiction to hear the case because Arar had never officially entered the country. The third judge dismissed that premise as "a legal fiction," saying Arar "was, in effect, abducted while attempting to transit at J.F.K. Airport." The full court's decision to rehear the case is highly unusual, especially since no one asked it to do so, and suggests a majority may ultimately decide to let the case proceed.

I wrote about the Canadian government exoneration of Arar in a 2006 column.