Canadian loses U.S. appeal in Syrian torture case

Mon Jun 30, 2008 4:40pm EDT
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By Christine Kearney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Canadian who says he was whisked off a plane in New York and sent illegally to Syria where he was tortured for a year lost his case against the U.S. government on Monday on a technicality.

Maher Arar, a Syrian-born software engineer, sued U.S. government officials in 2004 over his arrest during a 2002 stopover in New York and subsequent deportation to Syria because of suspected links to al Qaeda.

In a case that roiled U.S.-Canada relations, he says he was imprisoned in Syria for a year and tortured.

Arar had argued his constitutional rights were violated when he was confined without access to a lawyer or the courts and then forcibly returned to Syria, where U.S. authorities had reason to believe he would be tortured.

But the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals, affirming a lower court decision, ruled that Arar failed to establish that the federal court had jurisdiction to hear his complaint.

"Arar has not adequately established federal subject matter jurisdiction over his request for a judgment declaring that defendants acted illegally by removing him to Syria so that Syrian authorities could interrogate him under torture," the ruling said.

U.S. laws do not permit actions in federal courts against U.S. officials for claims such as Arar's, the first of its kind, the panel of three judges ruled, saying that Congress had not authorized damages for such cases.

Judge Jose Cabranes, writing for the majority, said Arar has no federal standing in the case, which was the basis for the hit Hollywood movie "Rendition." He said the case could not be heard in a federal court because Arar was an inadmissible alien and as such never entered U.S. jurisdiction.   Continued...

<p>Maher Arar arrives for a news conference in Ottawa December 12, 2006. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>