NEW YORK, NY -- March 30 -- A front page story in the New York Times today reported the discovery of flight records which corroborate the story of Canadian citizen Maher Arar. Mr. Arar, who is represented by the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, was detained in the United States while en route to Canada after a family vacation. He has consistently described the first horrific hours of his journey which took him to Syria where he was abused and tortured for nearly a year.
Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian citizen was detained at J.F.K. Airport in September 2002 while en route to Canada. He was held in solitary confinement and interrogated without the benefit of legal counsel. The Bush Administration labeled him a member of Al Qaeda, and sent him not to Canada, his home and country of citizenship, but to Syrian intelligence authorities renowned for torture. Mr. Arar was held for 10 months and 10 days in a cell he described as a grave in Syria, where he was brutally interrogated and tortured, without charge. After nearly a year of confinement, Syrian authorities released Mr. Arar, publicly stating that they had found no connection to any criminal or terrorist organization or activity. Upon his return to Canada, Mr. Arar was never charged with any crime; nor has he been charged with any crime by the United States. The Canadian Parliament has convened a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the details and reasoning behind Mr. Arar's rendition. The United States has categorically refused to cooperate with the Inquiry.
"With the revelations from FAA flight logs confirming the details of Maher Arar's rendition to Syria from the United States, Mr. Arar's case against the government for its unlawful decision to send him there for detention and interrogation under torture becomes even stronger, said Barbara Olshansky, Deputy Legal Director for the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents Mr. Arar. "With each piece of evidence that comes to light from investigations here in the U.S. and the Public Inquiry in Canada, she continued "another stone falls into place in the foundation of governmental responsibility for his inhumane and illegal treatment. The U.S. needs to come clean about the scope of their program of rendition and what has happened to those who fell under its policy.
"My family and I deserve to learn the truth about what happened to me. Who was responsible for my torture and interrogation? Was I tortured on behalf of US or Canadian agencies, or both? Those who participated in my rendition and subsequent torture must be held accountable, stated Mr.Arar.
The flight records obtained by the New York Times fully corroborate Mr. Arar's detailed description of his rendition. "Although the U.S. government does not dispute the fact that it sent Mr. Arar to Syria, it has refused to disclose who was involved in that decision," said Maria LaHood, a staff attorney at the Center. She also noted that "there is still a question regarding the degree to which the Canadian government participated in the decision to send him to Syria for interrogation under torture."
Mr. Arar's case was the first publicly-known example of the practice of "rendition" under which the U.S. sends foreign nationals to be interrogated in countries that engage in state-sponsored torture. News reports have confirmed other instances of rendition but Mr. Arar is one of very few people known to have survived to tell the story. A lawsuit filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights asks for full disclosure of the facts and government accountability for the injuries suffered by Mr. Arar.