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Appeals court in NYC will rehear torture case

Resource type: News

The Associated Press |

Original Source by LARRY NEUMEISTER A federal appeals court will reconsider its decision to toss out a Canadian engineer’s lawsuit over torture he says he endured after being mistaken for an Islamic extremist. The move by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan was unusual not only because the full circuit assembles for a case only once or twice a year, but because Maher Arar’s attorneys had yet to even ask for a full hearing. The court notified lawyers Wednesday that the full panel of 13 judges will rehear Arar’s case, which a three-judge panel of the 2nd Circuit dismissed in June. Arguments are scheduled for Dec. 9. “We never even considered the possibility they would do it before we asked,” said Maria LaHood, a Center for Constitutional Rights senior attorney representing Arar. “They certainly decided it was important enough on their own.” The Syrian-born Arar was detained in 2002 after switching planes at John F. Kennedy International Airport as he returned to Canada from vacation. Federal authorities say he had been wrongly listed as an al-Qaida member. Arar, 37, who lives in Ottawa, said in a lawsuit that he was freed only after being sent to Syria and tortured during nearly a year in prison. Syria has denied he was tortured. He was released without charges and returned to Canada. The Canadian government agreed to pay him almost $10 million after acknowledging it passed bad information to U.S. authorities. The appeals court said judges were polled, and a majority agreed the full court should hear the case. A spokesman for government attorneys did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment. LaHood said her client was very pleased with the appeals court’s decision, but “it’s bigger than him.” In June, the smaller panel upheld a Brooklyn judge’s 2006 finding that the government did not violate the Torture Victim Protection Act, which allows U.S. courts to assess damages against perpetrators of human rights abuses committed abroad. LaHood said the lower court gave “utter deference to the executive to decide what it wanted and to do what it wanted and to violate the law. And the court said, `We’re not going to hold you responsible because you say national security and foreign relations are involved.'” She said her client was mainly interested in accountability. “He’s long said he wants an apology, an acknowledgment of what they did and why they sent him to Syria, and he wants to make sure it doesn’t happen to anybody else,” LaHood said.

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