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Supreme Court refuses Maher Arar torture case

The US Supreme Court declined to take the case of Canadian citizen Maher Arar, who alleged that US officials deported him to Syria in 2002 knowing he would be tortured during terrorism interrogations.

By Staff writer / June 14, 2010

Syrian-born Canadian Maher Arar (r.) recounts his story of torture as his wife listens during a news conference in Ottawa, on January 28, 2004. On Monday the US Supreme Court rejected an appeal that sought to hold US officials accountable for their role in Arar's ordeal.

Jim Young/Reuters/File


A Canadian citizen has lost his bid to hold US officials accountable for their decision to label him an Al Qaeda suspect and deport him to Syria where he was held without charge for a year and allegedly tortured during US-directed interrogations.

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The US Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up the case of Maher Arar, who was born in Syria but had lived in Canada since his teens.

US officials detained Mr. Arar in September 2002 as he attempted to change planes at New York’s Kennedy International Airport for a flight home to Canada from Tunisia. He was held in the US and questioned by federal agents for 13 days before being whisked off to Syria.

Arar asked to be sent home to Canada, complaining that he would be tortured in Syria. Once in Syria, he was housed in a three-foot by six-foot by seven-foot cell. “Syrian officials tortured Arar while asking him questions strikingly similar to those federal agents had asked him in New York,” Arar’s petition to the high court said.

In October 2003, Syrian officials released Arar and allowed him to return to Canada after concluding he had no link to Al Qaeda, to terrorism, or to any other wrongdoing. After an inquiry into his ordeal, the Canadian Parliament and prime minister issued public apologies to Arar and awarded him $10.5 million Canadian dollars in compensation for the Canadian government’s part in his treatment.

Arar filed a lawsuit in the US seeking to hold American officials accountable for their actions. The suit alleged that US authorities held Arar incommunicado under harsh conditions in Brooklyn during days of interrogation. When his family hired a lawyer, officials allegedly deceived her to prevent her from seeking judicial review of Arar’s threatened deportation to Syria.

The suit also alleged that US officials conspired to have Syrian authorities use torture to gain answers federal agents were unable to obtain during questioning in the US.

US officials have denied the allegation that they conspired to have Arar tortured. They said they obtained assurances from Syria that Arar would not be tortured.

To date, the US government position on Arar has been to insist that Arar has no legal right to seek to hold American officials accountable for his ordeal.