A Canadian man who was detained at a New York airport and then moved to Syria, where he says he was tortured, cannot sue the United States, a federal appeals court ruled on Monday.
Maher Arar, a Syrian-born software engineer, was arrested by US officials during a 2002 stopover in New York while on his way home to Canada and then deported to Syria because of suspected links to al Qaeda.
Arar says he was imprisoned in Syria for a year and tortured and has sued top US government officials, claiming his civil liberties were violated.
In a 7-4 decision, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit agreed with a lower court that Arar could not sue US officials.
No legal standing to sue
The court found that he did not have legal standing to sue and that legal protection and redress in cases such as this should be determined by Congress and not the courts.
"Once Congress has performed this task, then the courts in a proper case will be able to review the statute and provide judicial oversight," the ruling said.
In a dissenting opinion, Judge Guido Calabresi wrote: "I believe that when the history of this distinguished court is written, today's majority decision will be viewed with dismay."
The Center for Constitutional Rights, which represented Arar, did not say whether it would appeal the ruling to the US Supreme Court.
In a statement, Arar said the ruling proves "the court system in the United States has become more or less a tool that the executive branch can easily manipulate through unfounded allegations and fear-mongering."
Arar filed the lawsuit in 2004. It was the first lawsuit to challenge the US government's policy of "extraordinary rendition," which involves transferring suspects to a third country where there is no prohibition on the use of torture during interrogation.
Arar has said that, while in Syria, he was beaten, whipped with electrical cables and held for almost a year in a tiny underground cell.
"It's the court's role to uphold the law and the law prohibits torture and provides for redress," said Center for Constitutional Rights attorney Maria LaHood. "Torture is universally agreed to be illegal and unconstitutional.
The Canadian government formally apologized to Arar in 2007 and paid him a C$10.5 million ($9.8 million) settlement.
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said the United States mishandled Arar's case, but stopped short of an apology.
Photo: Flickr-johnwmacdonald's photostream