Obama Might Want to Look Forward in 2012, but America’s Torture Legacy Will Keep Staring Back

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In 2002, Maher Arar was stopped while on a layover at John F. Kennedy International Airport on his way home to Canada. US officials detained Arar for two weeks and then told him that, based on classified evidence, they were sending him to Syria instead of letting him return home to Canada. In Syria, he was tortured and detained in an underground cell – three feet wide, six feet long and seven feet high – for nearly a year. During the first two weeks, he was subject to intense beatings, whipped on his back and hands with an electrical cable, and interrogated. Arar was eventually released without ever being charged with a crime.

In the hopes of preventing this from happening to anyone else, Arar has, since then, been fighting for an acknowledgement from the US government that its actions were illegal. Not only has President Obama refused to investigate the previous administration for crimes of torture and rendition committed against so many like Arar, but, on an even more basic, human level, Obama won’t even apologize to this innocent man for the irreparable wrong done to him.

It has now been close to two years since Arar’s legal avenues for redress in the United States were exhausted by the Center for Constitutional Rights. Together, we took his story from court to higher court, and after six years of demanding that those responsible for his torture be held accountable, the US Supreme Court slammed the final door – at the request of the Obama administration – by refusing to hear Arar’s case. The judiciary has become complicit in torture and other abuses by failing to check the executive branch.

An exhaustive investigation by a Canadian Commission of Inquiry found no evidence that Arar committed any crime. The inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security testified to Congress that it was indeed possible that Arar was sent to Syria to be interrogated under unlawful conditions. Still, the US government cannot muster an apology for what it did to Arar. In fact, to this day, he remains on a US terror watch list and cannot come to the United States.

President Obama insists we must look “forward, not backward,” but what can the future hold for this country if the abuses of the post-9/11 era are not confronted? Forward to what? A country where government officials can carry out these barbaric acts and never face justice?

In advance of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture on June 26, 2012, the Center for Constitutional Rights has joined Amnesty International, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, 9/11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows and over 60,000 individuals in calling on President Obama to acknowledge the wrong done to Arar in a public apology and provide other forms of redress. Under international law, Arar has a right to a remedy for being subjected to torture – and it’s the right thing to do. An apology is the very least President Obama can do.

Nothing will change the grave injustice that was done to Arar, but addressing his case and taking responsibility for the abuses of the past ten years is a first step in ensuring the past will not repeat itself.