Friday, October 19, 2007

Maher Arar Testifies Before Congress

Yesterday, Maher Arar testified before a joint oversight committee of Congress. Arar is a Canadian citizen, a victim of "rendition to torture" carried out by the CIA, and survivor of 11 months of torture in a Syrian prison. The Canadian government has formally apologized for its role in his rendition and offered Arar and his family restitution. Arar's lawsuit against U.S. government officials responsible for his rendition and torture remains pending.

Since 2002, Human Rights USA has stood at the forefront of efforts to end rendition to torture. In November 2003, we were the first group to bring attention to the Maher Arar case in an op-ed written by our Executive Director, Morton Sklar, in the Toronto Globe and Mail. We were also the first – and, to date, only – group to successfully challenge the “rendition to torture” policy in U.S. courts. In Abu Ali v. Ashcroft, our lawsuit compelled the U.S. government to bring U.S. citizen Ahmed Abu Ali back from Saudi Arabia after 20 months of imprisonment and torture conducted there at the behest of the U.S. government. Abu Ali was returned to the United States within just three weeks after the D.C. District Court ordered the U.S. government to reveal the extent of its involvement in his arrest and imprisonment abroad.

Following our success in Abu Ali, Human Rights USA challenged the U.S. government’s use of diplomatic assurances to justify deportation to countries known for torture and other major human rights abuses. Recently, a federal judge held, in our case Khouzam v. Hogan, that “no showing has been made … that removal based upon diplomatic assurances by a country known to have engaged in torture is consistent with the [Convention Against Torture]....” Additionally, the court held that because the U.S. government had not given Khouzam an opportunity to challenge the reliability of diplomatic assurances, and because the government has failed to provide evidence to support its reliance on diplomatic assurances, the court would not bar Khouzam’s due process claims under the political question doctrine. Sameh Khouzam remains in detention in Pennsylvania pursuant to a stay of removal while his case remains pending before the court. Without this stay of removal, Sameh would be deported to Egypt, a country whose penchant for torturing detainees is well documented by the U.S. Department of State.

Human Rights USA secured an injunction against the refoulment (return) of a Guantanamo Bay detainee in the Feghoul case, and we are now building upon these and other successes to challenge the transfer to torture policy as it pertains to GTMO detainees. We are coordinating a collaborative and sustained effort with other law firms, law school clinics, and organizations to address the problems that attorneys are confronted with in securing protections against transfer to torture, including challenging the use of diplomatic assurances as a basis for transfer, the adequacy of the DTA status determination review process, and procedural issues that arise when pursuing DTA and habeas challenges contemporaneously. Human Rights USA continues to serve as a clearinghouse for advocates seeking to prevent rendition through litigation.