Saturday, February 27, 2010

Maher Arar Launches New Online National Security Magazine and Appeals to the Supreme Court

The second issue of Prism Magazine is now available online. The not-for-profit journal launched last month by Maher Arar describes itself as a “security practices monitor”. The journal has an impressive list of contributors including: David Cole (Georgetown University); Alex Neve (Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada); Jeff Sallot (a former Globe and Mail bureau chief and professor at Carleton University School of Journalism); Paul Cavalluzzo (a prominent Canadian Constitutional lawyer and lead counsel to the Arar Inquiry); and Margaret Satterthwaite (co-director of the International Human Rights Clinic and a Faculty Director of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ) at New York University School of Law).

As the name suggests, the not-for-profit journal will focus on national security related issues. The website claims that “our governments have deliberately struck down many of our fundamental human rights and civil liberties” in their efforts to bolster national security, and suggests that many of the issues regarding our rights and liberties are not covered adequately in the mainstream media.

Syrian-born Arar was detained by U.S. authorities on September 26, 2002, during a stopover in New York en route from Tunisia to Canada. The Canadian citizen was subsequently sent to Syria for torture under the controversial American practice of “extraordinary rendition” despite repeated requests that he be sent to Canada. He was eventually released and returned to Canada in October 2003 after Canada put pressure on Syria.

According to the inquiry called after public outcry in Canada, U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service agents acted on false and misleading information supplied by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). The comprehensive inquiry which lasted more than two years was headed by Ontario’s Associate Chief Justice Dennis O’Connor and cost the public purse more than $16 million. The Commission findings paved the way for the Prime Minister’s formal apology to Arar on behalf of the Canadian government and settlement offer of $10.5 million plus legal fees to a settle a lawsuit launched by Arar. A number of officials including Canada’s top cop, RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli, resigned as a result of the Maher Arar controversy.

Meanwhile, American authorities have refused Canada’s request to purge Arar’s name from U.S. watch lists. His inclusion on U.S. lists effectively excludes Arar from at least one third of the world’s nations, according to his lawyers. Acting on Arar’s behalf, the Center for Constitutional Rights launched suit against the American government for violating Arar’s constitutional right to due process, his right to choose a country of removal other than one in which he would be tortured, as guaranteed under the Torture Victims Protection Act, and his rights under international law.

The suit was dismissed by a district court and the dismissal was upheld by an en banc Second Circuit Court of Appeals on November 2, 2009 in 7-4 decision.

“When the history of this distinguished court is written, today’s majority decision will be viewed with dismay,” wrote Justice Guido Calabresi, the former Yale Law dean, in lodging his dissent to a decision concluding that Arar has no right to sue government officials. While conceding that that Second Circuit acted out of concern for national security, the Justice wrote that the court “engaged in extraordinary judicial activism” to extricate certain political actors from their predicament.

Earlier this month, the Center for Constitutional Rights, acting on behalf of Arar, petitioned the Supreme Court for review of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals decision.

Having assisted numerous Canadian clients who have run into serious problems travelling or transiting through the United States, I certainly hope the Supreme Court will give this case a hearing it deserves.

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