NEW YORK – A federal judge has tossed out a civil rights lawsuit filed by a Syrian-born Canadian man who claimed U.S. counterterrorism officials deported him so he could be tortured in Syria.
Maher Arar had sued the officials in 2004 in what was believed to be the first case challenging extraordinary rendition — the policy of transferring foreign terror suspects to third countries without court approval.
U.S. District Judge David G. Trager rejected arguments that Arar was protected by the Torture Victim Prevention Act, which allows U.S. courts to assess damages for human rights abuses committed abroad.
Trager said that as a non-citizen, Arar couldn't demonstrate that he has a viable cause of action under that statute.
Citing "the national security and foreign policy considerations at stake," the judge said Arar had no grounds in a U.S. court to claim his constitutional right to due process was violated.
Arar, 35, holds dual Syrian-Canadian citizenship and was traveling on a Canadian passport when he was stopped in New York during a layover while returning to Canada from Tunisia. He was held for 12 days before being sent to Syria on suspicion of being a member of Al Qaeda, an allegation he denies.
Arar maintains that once imprisoned in Damascus, he was tortured into making false confessions of terrorist activity. Arar said he was held for more than a year in a dark, damp cell, then was released without ever being charged.
The U.S. Justice Department has insisted that it had information linking Arar to Al Qaeda, that Syria promised he would be treated humanely and that shipping him there was "in the best interest of the security of the United States." Syria has denied he was tortured.
Justice Department officials were pleased with the judge's ruling, spokesman Charles Miller said.
Attorneys for the Center for Constitutional Rights, which filed the lawsuit on Arar's behalf, said the ruling set a disturbing precedent.
"To allow the Bush administration to evade accountability and continue to hide behind a smoke screen of 'national security' is to do grave and irreparable damage to the Constitution and the guarantee of human rights that people in this country could once be proud of," attorney Maria LaHood said.