Last Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit heard oral argument in Arar v. Ashcroft, a high-profile lawsuit arising out of the U.S. government’s rendition of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen, to Syria.
We interviewed DLA Piper partner Joshua Sohn (at right), co-counsel to Mr. Arar along with the Center for Constitutional Rights, about this interesting case and his firm’s work on it.
For readers who aren’t familiar with the case, what’s it all about?
It’s about the federal government’s extraordinary renditions program, which sends “people of interest” to sites around the world for indefinite detention and interrogation under harsh conditions — in this case torture. Mr. Arar, who is a computer engineer, Canadian citizen, husband, and father of two young children, was pulled out of the immigration line at JFK when he was attempting to change planes, but not enter the United States. Mr. Arar was interrogated at the airport, detained and interrogated at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, and ultimately flown by private jet in the dead of night to Jordan and delivered to Syria. Mr. Arar was never charged with a crime, was not allowed to consult with an attorney for many days when he was first detained and both he and his attorney were lied to about what was going to happen to him and the fact that he was being sent to Syria.
Mr. Arar made plain to those holding him that he feared being tortured in Syria and that he wanted to be sent to Canada-where he lived and was a citizen. Those pleas were ignored and Mr. Arar was sent to Syria where he was tortured and kept in a grave-like cell for almost a year. This case seeks to hold the federal officials who are responsible for Mr. Arar’s treatment, responsible.
Read the rest of the interview, after the jump.
[Ed. note: Please note that we have drawn inspiration in our approach to interviewing from Stephen Colbert of the Colbert Report.]
What is DLA Piper’s role in the case? How did the firm first get involved?
We are co-counsel for Mr. Arar with the Center for Constitutional Rights. I was asked by an attorney at CCR who I have worked with for many years to get involved with the case. Our work on the case began in 2003.
How did the argument last Friday go? Based on the questioning from the bench, how are you feeling about your chances?
It is impossible to predict what will happen, but the panel seemed very interested in the issues this case presents and challenged some of the “mechanical” positions that the government has asserted. We are, of course, hopeful that Mr. Arar will get his day in court and that those responsible will be held accountable.
Have you met your client? If so, what is he like?
Unfortunately not in person, because despite having never been charged with any crime whatsoever by any of the four governments that have touched him, Mr. Arar is subject to a 10-year ban on entering the U.S.
At the expiration of that ban, in 2012, he will be able to apply to enter the country. I should mention that the Canadian government conducted an intensive inquiry and issued a report of more than a thousand pages that cleared Mr. Arar and makes plain that he was the victim of a bad information exchange. I have had opportunities to speak with him by phone and have the utmost respect for him. I think he’s a remarkable man.
Why did your client decide to become an international terrorist?
The exhaustive inquiry and report of the Canadian Parliament’s Commission of Inquiry into the Actions of Canadian Officials in Relation to Maher Arar made unequivocally clear that you’d have to ask some of the current or former officials in the United States Department of Justice that question, because they’re the only people that take that position.
The Middle East is one of the world’s top tourism regions, rich in history and sites of religious importance. Why is your client complaining about getting a free, all-inclusive trip to Syria?
Primarily because of the quality of his accommodations. Mr. Arar spent nearly a year in underground cell that he has likened to a grave. When he was not actually being tortured, he had to listen to the screams of other prisoners as they were tortured themselves.
Any final thoughts on the case?
This case is critically important to reasserting the primacy of the rule of law domestically and in doing so beginning the work of reestablishing ourselves as credible advocates for respect for the rule of law around the world. As recent events in Pakistan have made clear, we as Americans are easily outraged when other countries disregard the rule of law and act in ways that we find repugnant to our legal tradition. But some among us lack the self awareness to be equally demanding of our own system.
Arar v. Ashcroft [Center for Constitutional Rights]
Joshua S. Sohn [DLA Piper]