Imagine you are on your way home from a family vacation only to be stopped by authorities because they suspect you are a terrorist. Your request for legal counsel is denied because you are told that since you are not a citizen of the country, you have no legal rights. You are then transferred to another country where you are tortured for over a year before being released.
This nightmare was a reality for Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen, who accused United States officials of detaining him in New York and transferring him to Syria where he would spend the next 374 days being tortured. In his testimony before the House Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Subcommittee, Mr. Arar described his ordeal, “During the early days of my detention, I was interrogated and physically tortured. I was beaten with an electrical cable and threatened with a metal chair, the tire and electric shocks. I was forced to falsely confess that I had been to Afghanistan. When I was not being beaten, I was put in a waiting room so that I could hear the screams of other prisoners. The cries of the women still haunt me the most.”
The Canadian government, which provided the erroneous advice to US authorities, issued an apology to Mr. Arar in addition to awarding him a multi-million dollar settlement. On the other hand, the United States has issued no apology and denied any legal proceedings to move forward because the torture happened overseas and “Congress has not authorized such lawsuits.”
In 2003 and 2004, several human rights organizations wrote letters to US officials requesting an investigation be conducted immediately and expressing their concerns about violations of human rights in regards to Mr. Arar’s case. In 2008, Human Rights Watch along with other organizations wrote to the department of homeland security requesting the release of the general inspector’s report regarding Maher Arar. As of today, there have been no updates that United States’ government offiicials have responded to these requests.
Here is a short of list of what articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were violated:
- Article 5 – No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
- Article 6 – Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.
- Article 7 – All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.
- Article 8 -Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.
- Article 9 – No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.
Congress should clear the way for Mr. Arar to have his court date and get the justice that has eluded him for seven years. The United States needs to respect human rights by putting an end to arbitrary detention and the use of torture. An independent investigation should be conducted and those who are guilty need to be brought to justice.