Given the awesome gathering that Rabbis for Human Rights has put together from Sunday through tomorrow, I think it’s awful fitting that tomorrow, one of the more public and horrifying cases of US-allowed torture of the last several years, that of Canadian-Syrian citizen Maher Arar’s rights to recourse in the courts of the United States, will be decided on in part by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals here in NYC. And I have to take a moment to tip my hat to Representative Jerrold Nadler for making a strong statement on the case today.
While on the campaign trail, I got really angry with Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY8) and his really foolish off-the-cuff remarks about now President-Elect Obama at a shul in Florida. Now, I have to stand up and give him props for the statement he and Rep. Bill Delahunt have at Talking Points Memo, demanding that Arar be able to get some justice in this country. For those who don’t know, the Arar case is one of the uglier individual cases of the last 8 years that we actually know about. Finding out about this case was the moment that persuaded me to get back into electoral politics four years ago. And tomorrow, when the Second Circuit Court of Appeals decides the current fate of this case, they have a chance at a small piece of redemption for this country. A small piece, but a piece nonetheless.
The short version: when Arar flies into JFK in September, 2002, from Zurich on his way to Montreal, he is detained. Because he is a co-worker of the brother of a “terror suspect” and has met the brother very casually over several years, he is pulled in for questioning. This questioning, including being questioned without a lawyer, and being dragged out over many days, results in Arar being flown to Syria where he is tortured for almost an entire year. Beaten, starved, forced to sign documents, the whole nine. what you’d imagine in a movie about a prisoner being tortured. Except all Maher Arar did was happen to have dual citizenship in Syria and Canada, and happen to know the brother of someone who was a suspect.
Nadler and Delahunt argue that our government has a responsibility to allow Arar a chance to seek recompense for the horrific events that were brought about by the actions of this government. They argue that the administration’s use of “national security” as an all purpose get out of jail free card for any wrongdoing is feeble and wrong:

Mr. Arar’s case represents much more than an isolated search for answers and justice by a single individual. His situation dramatically calls into question the Administration’s longstanding and outrageous assertion that national security places it above the law and beyond the review of any other branch of government. Mr. Arar’s case thus raises essential questions for all Americans regarding respect for the rule of law and the vitality of our Constitutional system.
In fulfilling their role in our system of checks and balances, the courts have, in the past, recognized and remedied violations of individual rights by government officials. Where cases may implicate national security concerns — as the government claims here — the courts have proven more than capable of safeguarding sensitive national security information from harmful public disclosure. We are confident that they can also do so in Mr. Arar’s case.

This is not some made up story. This is not a farce. This isn’t a story about what happens if a mythic government goes wrong. This is a story about what happens when our government, the one that acts in our name and we fund with our taxes, is responsible for the torture of an innocent man for a year. Rabbis for Human Rights has done a ton of work to call attention to torture and work to end it, and I’m sure they would be glad to know that Rep. Nadler has taken a strong position on this case that is one of many horrible stains on the years of the Bush Administration.
And sure, we know about this case, but how many other cases of rendition are lurking out there for this one we know? Arar is a software programmer in Canada, with some means. Imagine if he wasn’t able to rally any kind of support? He would probably be another of the cases we simply don’t know.
Unfortunately, I could not make it to the 2nd North American Conference on Judaism and Human Rights, which chillul who? and KRG are blogging about, but it’s awful appropriate that as their fantastic looking conference closes, a chapter of new oversight and efforts at making things right will hopefully open up here in New York. Hopefully. For Mr. Arar’s sake and our own.