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Anti Anti-Terrorists Beaten in Brooklyn By: Henry Mark Holzer
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, March 17, 2006

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"Rendition” is a buzz word, or, more properly curse word for the legal left and all others who disagree with President Bush’s war on terror.  “Rendition” is the practice and process of sending suspected terrorists to other countries whose interrogation techniques are more robust than our own in order to extract  information that may save the lives or our soldiers or our citizens here at home.

That’s what happened to a Syrian-Canadian citizen named Maher Arar traveling from Tunisia to Canada via New York’s JFK airport in September 2002, when his name appeared on a watch list.  After being briefly incarcerated in New York, in October 2002 he was “rendered” to Syria, interrogated there, and released in 2003. Arar then surfaced in Canada and two years later sued in an American court.


Last month, United States District Judge David G. Trager (Eastern District of New York) threw out Arar’s suit principally on national security grounds, and with it blunted yet another of the legal-left’s attempts to undermine America’s efforts to defend itself against radical Islam. For his trouble, Judge Trager has been pilloried by the usual suspects, including the losing plaintiff’s America-hating lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Village Voice’s  Nat Hentoff, and the likes of Georgetown University Law Professor David Cole.  


Because of the importance of the ruling, and because it has been and will continue to be deliberately distorted, I’m going to explain it at some length in order to set the record straight and arm those who may have to defend the ruling. Because the facts as alleged in the complaint are crucial to an understanding of Judge Trager’s rulings on the law relating to rendition, they are set forth here almost in their entirety. (Ellipses and asterisks indicate where irrelevant words and sentences have been removed.)


Maher Arar (“Arar” or “plaintiff”) is a 33-year-old native of Syria . . . . He is a dual citizen of Syria and Canada and presently resides in Ottawa. In September 2002, while vacationing with family in Tunisia, he was called back to work by his employer . . . .  He purchased a return ticket to Montreal with stops in Zurich and New York and left Tunisia on September 25, 2002.

September 26, 2002, Arar arrived from Switzerland at John F. Kennedy Airport (“JFK Airport”) in New York to catch a connecting flight to Montreal. Upon presenting his passport to an immigration inspector, he was identified as “the subject of a ... lookout as being a member of a known terrorist organization. . . . .” He was interrogated by various officials for approximately eight hours. The officials asked Arar if he had contacts with terrorist groups, which he categorically denied. Arar was then transported to another site at JFK Airport, where he was placed in solitary confinement. He alleges that he was transported in chains and shackles and was left in a room with no bed and with lights on throughout the night.

The following morning,
September 27, 2002, starting at approximately 9:00 a.m., two FBI agents interrogated Arar for about five hours, asking him questions about Osama bin Laden, Iraq and Palestine. Arar alleges that the agents yelled and swore at him throughout the interrogation. They ignored his repeated requests to make a telephone call and see a lawyer. At 2:00 p.m. that day, Arar was taken back to his cell, chained and shackled and provided a cold McDonald's meal--his first food in nearly two days.

That evening, Arar was given an opportunity to voluntarily return to
Syria, but refused, citing a fear of being tortured if returned there and insisting that he be sent to Canada or returned to Switzerland. An immigration officer told Arar that the United States had a “special interest” in his case and then asked him to sign a form, the contents of which he was not allowed to read. That evening, Arar was transferred, in chains and shackles, to the Metropolitan Detention Center (“MDC”) in Brooklyn, New York, where he was strip-searched and placed in solitary confinement. During his initial three days at MDC, Arar's continued requests to meet with a lawyer and make telephone calls were refused.

October 1, 2002, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (“INS”) initiated removal proceedings against Arar, who was charged with being temporarily inadmissible because of his membership in al Qaeda, a group designated by the Secretary of State as a foreign terrorist organization. Upon being given permission to make one telephone call, Arar called his mother-in-law in Ottawa, Canada.  Upon learning Arar's whereabouts, his family contacted the Office for Consular Affairs (“Canadian Consulate”) and retained an attorney, Amal Oummih, to represent him. The Canadian Consulate had not been notified of Arar's detention. On October 3, 2002, Arar received a visit from Maureen Girvan from the Canadian Consulate, who, when presented with the document noting Arar's inadmissibility within the U.S., assured Arar that removal to Syria was not an option. On October 4, 2002, Arar designated Canada as the country to which he wished to be removed.

October 5, 2002, Arar had his only meeting with counsel. The following day, he was taken in chains and shackles to a room where approximately seven INS officials questioned him about his reasons for opposing removal to Syria. His attorney was not provided advance notice of the interrogation, and Arar further alleges that U.S. officials misled him into thinking his attorney had chosen not to attend. During the interrogation, Arar continued to express his fear of being tortured if returned to Syria. At the conclusion of the six-hour interrogation, Arar was informed that the officials were discussing his case with “Washington, D.C.” Arar was asked to sign a document that appeared to be a transcript. He refused to sign the form.

The following day (
October 7, 2002), attorney Oummih received two telephone calls informing her that Arar had been taken for processing to an INS office at Varick Street in Manhattan, that he would eventually be placed in a detention facility in New Jersey and that she should call back the following morning for Arar's exact whereabouts. However, Arar alleges that he never left MDC and that the contents of both of these phone calls to his counsel were false and misleading.

That same day, October 7, 2002, the INS Regional Director, J. Scott Blackman, determined from classified and unclassified information that Arar is “clearly and unequivocally” a member of al Qaeda and, therefore, “clearly and unequivocally inadmissible to the United States”under
8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(3)(B)(i)(V) [a federal statute]. * * *  Based on that finding, Blackman concluded “that there are reasonable grounds to believe that [Arar] is a danger to the security of the United States.” * * *

At approximately 4:00 a.m. on October 8, 2002, Arar learned that, based on classified information, INS regional director Blackman had ordered that Arar be sent to Syria and that his removal there was consistent with Article 3 of the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (“CAT”). Arar pleaded for reconsideration but was told by INS officials that the agency was not governed by the “Geneva Conventions” and that Arar was barred from reentering the country for a period of five years and would be admissible only with the permission of the Attorney General.

Later that day, Arar was taken in chains and shackles to a
New Jersey airfield, where he boarded a small jet bound for Washington, D.C. From there, he was flown to Amman, Jordan, arriving there on October 9, 2002. He was then handed over to Jordanian authorities, who delivered him to the Syrians later that day. At this time, U.S. officials had not informed either Canadian Consulate official Girvan or attorney Oummih that Arar had been removed to Syria. Arar alleges that Syrian officials refused to accept Arar directly from the United States.

Arar's Final Notice of Inadmissability (“Final Notice”) ordered him removed without further inquiry before an immigration judge. …  According to the Final Notice: “The Commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service has determined that your removal to
Syria would be consistent with [CAT]….”   It was dated October 8, 2002, and signed by Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson. After oral argument on these motions to dismiss, in a letter dated August 18, 2005, counsel for Arar clarified that he received the Final Notice within hours of boarding the aircraft taking him to Jordan…..


During his ten-month period of detention in Syria, Arar alleges that he was placed in a “grave” cell measuring six-feet long, seven feet high and three feet wide. The cell was located within the Palestine Branch of the Syrian Military Intelligence (“Palestine Branch”). The cell was damp and cold, contained very little light and was infested with rats, which would enter the cell through a small aperture in the ceiling. Cats would urinate on Arar through the aperture, and sanitary facilities were nonexistent. Arar was allowed to bathe himself in cold water once per week. He was prohibited from exercising and was provided barely edible food. Arar lost forty pounds during his ten-month period of detention in Syria.

During his first twelve days in Syrian detention, Arar was interrogated for eighteen hours per day and was physically and psychologically tortured. He was beaten on his palms, hips and lower back with a two-inch-thick electric cable. His captors also used their fists to beat him on his stomach, face and back of his neck. He was subjected to excruciating pain and pleaded with his captors to stop, but they would not. He was placed in a room where he could hear the screams of other detainees being tortured and was told that he, too, would be placed in a spine-breaking “chair,” hung upside down in a “tire” for beatings and subjected to electric shocks. To lessen his exposure to the torture, Arar falsely confessed, among other things, to having trained with terrorists in Afghanistan, even though he had never been to Afghanistan and had never been involved in terrorist activity.


Arar alleges that his interrogation in Syria was coordinated and planned by U.S. officials, who sent the Syrians a dossier containing specific questions. 


As evidence of this, Arar notes that the interrogations in the U.S. and Syria contained identical questions, including a specific question about his relationship with a particular individual wanted for terrorism. In return, the Syrian officials supplied U.S. officials with all information extracted from Arar; plaintiff cites a statement by one Syrian official who has publicly stated that the Syrian government shared information with the U.S. that it extracted from Arar. …


The Canadian Embassy contacted the Syrian government about Arar on October 20, 2002, and, the following day, Syrian officials confirmed that they were detaining him. At this point, the Syrian officials ceased interrogating and torturing Arar.

Canadian officials visited Arar at the Palestine Branch five times during his ten-month detention. Prior to each visit, Arar was warned not to disclose that he was being mistreated. He complied but eventually broke down during the fifth visit, telling the Canadian consular official that he was being tortured and kept in a grave.

Five days later, Arar was brought to a Syrian investigation branch, where he was forced to sign a confession stating that he had participated in terrorist training in Afghanistan even though, Arar states, he has never been to Afghanistan or participated in any terrorist activity. Arar was then taken to an overcrowded Syrian prison, where he remained for six weeks.


On September 28, 2003, Arar was transferred back to the Palestine Branch, where he was held for one week. During this week, he heard other detainees screaming in pain and begging for their torture to end.

October 5, 2003, Syria, without filing any charges against Arar, released him into the custody of Canadian Embassy officials in Damascus. He was flown to Ottawa the following day and reunited with his family.


On the basis of these alleged facts, Arar sued named and unnamed members of the Department of Justice, Homeland Security, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Federal Bureau of Investigation.


To continue reading this article, click here.

Henry Mark Holzer, Professor Emeritus at Brooklyn Law School, is a constitutional lawyer and author most recently of The Supreme Court Opinions of Clarence Thomas, 1991-2006, A Conservative’s Perspective.

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