- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 4, 2005

I thought I was inured to learning about further evidence of this administration’s disregard for our system of justice as it abuses international law and our statutes in the CIA’s kidnapping of terrorism suspects to be sent to other nations. But an Aug. 9 statement in Brooklyn federal court by Mary Mason of the Justice Department’s Constitutional Torts Section astonished me by its breadth of disregard for what we prize as our rule of law.

The case was the first civil lawsuit to challenge the CIA’s “extraordinary renditions,” sending terrorist suspects to countries known for torturing their prisoners. Maher Arar, a naturalized Canadian citizen, is suing for damages in Maher Arar v. John Ashcroft, Acting Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, et al. He was seized by American agents and shipped to his native Syria, where he was tortured for nearly a year after being picked up at Kennedy International Airport on Sept. 26, 2002, when he was changing planes to return to his home in Canada from a beach vacation in Tunisia.

As reported in the Aug. 10 New York Times (and confirmed to me by Georgetown University law professor David Cole, Mr. Arar’s attorney on behalf of the Center for Constitutional rights) this is what Mrs. Mason, speaking for the U.S. government, said in federal court: “Foreign citizens who change planes at airports in the United States can legally be seized, detained without charges, deprived of access to a lawyer or the courts, and even denied basic necessities like food.” Asked U.S. District Judge David Trager: “Would not such treatment of a detainee in any context, criminal, civil, immigration or otherwise violate both the Constitution and clearly established case law?” Mrs. Mason said it would not. All the government has to do is declare the seized passenger an “inadmissible alien” beyond the reach of the Constitution.

It’s important to note at this point that Mr. Arar has not been charged with any crime despite his horrifying ordeal in a 3-by-6-by-7-foot cell, described by him as “like a grave,” where he heard the screams of other tortured prisoners. After Syria finally released him, that government declared Mr. Arar completely innocent, said Imad Moustapha, Syria’s high-ranking diplomat in Washington, on the Jan. 21, 2004, CBS “60 Minutes II.” Mr. Arar did falsely confess after ongoing, savage bouts of torture that he had been to an al Qaeda trainingcampin Afgh-anistan. But he has neverbeenin Afghanistan. He confessed, he says, because he was ready to “do anything to stop the torture.” Syria’s Mr. Moustapha admits:”Wetraced links. We traced relations. We tried to find anything. We couldn’t.” Now back in Canada, Mr. Arar is a free man. In addition to suffering continual nightmares about his torture, and other resultant difficulties, he is afraid that he can never clear his name. Mr. Arar is suing Messrs. Ashcroft and Thompson, and other officials for compensatory and punitive damages.

In court papers, his attorneys note that the U.S. government removed him chained and shackled to Syria “with the full knowledge of the existence of state-sponsored torture in that country.” Our own State Departmenthasrepeatedly confirmed the torture in that country. Moreover, as his attorneys add, this official kidnapping was committed “in direct contravention of the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, a treaty ratified by the United States in 1994” and in violation of this country’s subsequent Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991.

As usual, the Justice Department, as often stated by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, maintains that no suspect is sent to a country known for torture unless “assurances” are given that the prisoner, uncharged with any crime, will not be tortured. As I and other reporters, along with human-rights organizations, have documented, these “assurances” are a farce, and the Bush administration knows it, despite the president’s frequent pledges that “we do not engage in torture.” This government’s papers in Mr. Arar’s lawsuit actually say, as the New York Times reported, that when foreign citizens are seized and abused on our soil and then sent away to be tortured, “even if they are wrongly or illegally designated inadmissible… such aliens have at most a right against ‘gross physical abuse.’ ” And, of course, no American official, up to and including the attorney general, is responsible for any “illegalities” resulting in that innocent victim being tortured.

The government claims it has classified information that Mr. Arar is an al Qaeda member, but it has invoked its “state secrets” privilege to refuse to release that “evidence,” so that Mr. Arar can refute it. It’s no longer a secret that, in these “extraordinary renditions,” this administration has repeatedly and cynically been flagrantly lawless while Congress keeps abdicating its constitutional investigative responsibilities under the separation of powers.

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