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Will we hold torturers accountable?

My local group fighting against torture informs me that the Second Court of Appeals has, amazingly, agreed to rehear the case of Maher Arar, the Canadian citizen kidnapped and "rendered" to Syria for torture by our government using our tax dollars.

If there's any hope of turning back to the pre-Bush level of commitment to the rule of law, however imperfect, we have to account for what's been done through the justice system. We have to demand accountability. The truth is in the same "grave-like cell" that held Maher Arar for ten months, and it's up to us to bring it into the light.

The Center for Constitutional Rights is publicizing a rally outside the courthouse on Tuesday, December 9th, the day the appeal is to be heard, so if you're in NYC do try to be there - 12:30, starting in Foley Square. We will also be rallying elsewhere around the country. Here's a flyer you can use if you want to organize a local event. CCR also asks us to write a letter to the editor about this case. Here are some talking points suggested for your letter.

Here's a copy of the email I got from Pittsburgh Against Torture:

National Day of Action for Victims of Extraordinary Rendition, December 9th, 2008

Demand action by the U.S.government on December 9, 2008, when Maher Arar’s attorneys return to the U.S. Court of Appeals seeking justice for his rendition to torture.

While the black cloud of George W. Bush is finally lifting, the crimes perpetuated by his administration will not be undone or erased in January. Join us to hold high levels of the Bush administration—former Attorney General John Ashcroft, former Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, and FBI Director Robert Mueller, as well as numerous U.S. immigration officials—accountable for the torture and rendition of Maher Arar.

In 2002, Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen, was detained at JFK airport on his way home from a family trip. He was interrogated, prevented from having assistance from a lawyer, and sent against his will to Syria, a country renowned for torture. He was interrogated, tortured and held in a grave-like cell for over ten months in Syria. No country, including the U.S., has ever charged him with any crime. But the Bush administration continues to keep Maher Arar on a watch list, refused to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate U.S. officials who sent Mr. Arar to Syria, and is actively seeking to deny Mr. Arar justice in U.S.courts.

U.S. courts have given in to the U.S. officials’ efforts to prevent justice from being served by refusing to determine whether it was unconstitutional to send Mr. Arar to Syria to be tortured and arbitrarily detained. In 2006, a federal judge dismissed Mr. Arar’s claims, not on the merits, but because of national security and foreign policy concerns. In June of this year, a three judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals decided 2-1 that Mr. Arar’s case could not proceed, on largely the same grounds. The dissenting judge found that this decision gives federal officials the license to “violate constitutional rights with virtual impunity.”

Rather than upholding the rule of law, the Constitution, and human rights, the courts have instead deferred to the Bush Administration, giving it unchecked authority where it claims national security and foreign policy concerns are at stake.

But in an extremely rare occurrence, the full Second Circuit Court of Appeals decided to rehear Maher Arar’s case on December 9, 2008. This time around, we need to make sure that the court knows that United Statesofficials do not have license to ship people off to other countries to be tortured or disappeared. We need to make sure the court knows that there must be accountability for torture, and that measures taken in the name of national security must comply with the law.

Click here to read more about the case at the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Join us in New York City:

1. BEFORE DECEMBER 9: Make media / build public pressure in support of Maher Arar and other victims of extraordinary rendition: Write a letter to the editor of your local paper about Maher Arar and why you think its important that the court hear his case. Help spread the word about the December 9th rally outside the courthouse.
2. DECEMBER 9: RALLY OUTSIDE THE COURTHOUSE:12:30pm – 2:30pm, Foley Square; Rally and procession to courthouse for victims of extraordinary rendition; Worth & Centre Streets (near the Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall 4,5,6 and R,W trains)

Join us in solidarity from elsewhere:

1. BEFORE DECEMBER 9: Make media / build public pressure in support of Maher Arar and other victims of extraordinary rendition: Write a letter to the editor of your local paper about Maher Arar and why you think its important that the court hear his case.
2. DECEMBER 9: RALLY AT YOUR LOCAL FEDERAL COURT: Organize a rally outside your local federal courthouse demanding the court allow Maher Arar’s case to move forward.

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amberglow's picture
Submitted by amberglow on

"... It seems that after 9/11, the solution to the problem of too much law was to simply do away with the stuff. And the solution to the lawlessness that followed 9/11? Do away with any legal consequences for the perpetrators. If there exists a more perverse method of restoring the rule of law in America than announcing that legal instruments are inadequate to address them, I can't imagine it. ..."

-- -- Truth or Consequences?: Why can't we hold torturers accountable and still find out the truth?

Submitted by gob on

Dahlia Lithwick is Slate's only excuse for existence; go read.

Obama advisers are pushing instead [of Justice Department actions] for a 9/11-style commission that would "investigate counterterrorism policies and make public as many details as possible."

A 9/11 style commission is totally inappropriate for this situation. Their charter was "to prepare a full and complete account of the circumstances surrounding the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, including preparedness for and the immediate response to the attacks. The Commission is also mandated to provide recommendations designed to guard against future attacks."

In particular, they were not charged with investigating lawbreaking by the executive branch. They were concerned with the (mal)functioning of the national security apparatus.


I want to agree [but she doesn't] with professor Kermit Roosevelt, who told Salon that the prospect of a blanket presidential pardon followed by a truth-and-reconciliation commission would have the salutary effect of "healing the country and moving forward," leading us toward "getting a clear picture of what happened and letting the public make an informed decision."

South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission may have worked well for them (I'm not well-informed about this). But again, their situation is not ours. They were moving from a white-supremacist state with an inherently unjust legal system, attempting to build a multi-racial democracy while dealing with the risk of minority elements in the population who might well have been willing to provoke a bloodbath if they thought they could.

In our case there's no risk that a legal prosecution might set off rioting in the streets or the torching of neighborhoods. Heck even people whose careers might be at risk can probably go on to make a fortune in talk radio. Look at G. Gordon Liddy ferchrissakes.

Perhaps it's to our shame that legal proceedings would pose a relatively minor threat to the investigatees. But the smallness of the risk makes a mockery of the comparison to South Africa.