Saturday, November 10, 2007

Alleged link between Arar and Al-Qaeda shocks US court

I don't know if this bodes well for the case. It shows the same absysmal ignorance of the case as is common among the press. Arar was judged to be a member of Al Qaeda by a kangaroo immigration hearing that provided the basis for the assistant US attorney general to issue an order to have Arar deported to Syria. Arar's lawyer was not present at this "hearing". In fact it was not a regular hearing at all. This crap was decided at the highest levels of the US government. The government lawyer is just repeating the line established long ago that Arar is a member of Al Qaeda. The judge apparently has no clue about how the case was handled. Maybe it is a good sign. The judge may be under the illusion that there is actually some reasonable form of justice in the operation of the system against suspected terrorists. The Arar case will disabuse him of any such notion. However, I expect that the judge will find that in the interests of national security the case cannot go ahead.

Saturday » November 10 » 2007

Alleged link between Arar and al-Qaida 'shocks' U.S. court

Steven Edwards
CanWest News Service

Saturday, November 10, 2007

NEW YORK -- Gasps broke out in a U.S. federal appeals court Friday as a U.S. government lawyer spoke of Maher Arar's "unequivocal membership of al-Qaida."

One of the court's three sitting judges echoed the reaction of many in the public gallery, declaring the statement stunned him too.

Not only has a Canadian judicial inquiry cleared Arar of having any terrorism links, but U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has admitted the U.S. government did not properly handle his case.

"It was kind of a shocking statement with which to start," Judge Robert Sack told Dennis Barghaan, one of three government attorneys opposing Arar's bid to see his lawsuit against the U.S. government reinstated.

Arar lawyer Maria Lahood hinted outside the courtroom the judge's reaction bodes well for Arar's case.

"To me, it was a sign the judge knew this was an innocent man," she said.

The appeal comes after a U.S. federal trial court judge threw out Arar's lawsuit in February 2006 on grounds going ahead would require the release of sensitive information affecting national security.

A Syrian-born Canadian, Arar sued the U.S. government for secretly shipping him in 2002 to Syria, where he was tortured during almost a year in custody.

U.S. authorities had arrested him as he passed through New York's Kennedy Airport while returning from an overseas vacation to his Ottawa home.

The United States alleged Arar was linked to al-Qaida based on information provided by the RCMP, and the case marked the first attempt to launch a court challenge to the Central Intelligence Agency's alleged "extraordinary rendition" of terrorism suspects to countries whose human rights records are so poor that torture is possible.

Handling both the U.S. lawsuit and appeal has been a legal team working either for, or under the umbrella of, the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights.

CCR volunteer attorney David Cole argued Arar had been denied U.S. constitutional rights even foreigners should expect on U.S. soil - including the right to appeal his deportation order and the right not to be sent to a place where he'd be tortured and arbitrarily detained.

But the government team said the constitution couldn't be extended to a person who hadn't yet been admitted into the United States by immigration authorities - as was Arar's case.

Presiding Judge Jose Cabranes appeared to be skeptical of that government line.

"This sharp line of demarcation seems to me to be a little artificial," he said.

The two sides also argued over whether case law contained examples of trials proceeding notwithstanding national security concerns, with the government lawyers saying Cole couldn't point to an exact same circumstance.

"Well there shouldn't be because this shouldn't happen," Lahood snapped in an interview.

Although arguments were completed Friday, the judges are expected to take months to render a decision.

Arar was not present for the hearing because he remains barred from entering the United States.

With the "extraordinary rendition" principle now a focus of protests against the administration of President George W. Bush, activists from such groups as Code Pink attended the hearing in significant numbers.

"This is a case that brings out the attacks on everything we believe in," said Sarie Teichman, 50, a photographer who works with senior citizens when she's not protesting. "It's got extraordinary rendition, torture, lack of government accountability and most all, the value this administration places on human life - and especially on non-U.S. life, people the U.S. calls aliens."

Court officials told Code Pink activists wearing "Arrest Bush" and "Arrest Cheney" T-shirts to remove them, or be barred from entry. They complied.

Arar, who has already received $10 million in compensation from the Canadian government, seeks in his lawsuit unspecified compensation, admission by the U.S. authorities they were wrong, and the lifting of the ban on U.S. entry.

Among senior U.S. officials named in the lawsuit are former attorney general John Ashcroft, former homeland security secretary Tom Ridge and Federal Bureau of Investigation director Robert Mueller.

© CanWest News Service 2007

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