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Appeals court rejects Canadian's lawsuit against U.S. officials

  • Story Highlights
  • Maher Arar, seized by U.S. officials and sent to Syria, claims he was tortured
  • Ottawa government told the United States Arar had connections to al Qaeda
  • Canadian authorities paid Arar nearly $10 million to settle his suit against them
  • U.S. Court of Appeals held that Arar's claims fail on legal grounds; dismissed case
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From Terry Frieden
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A Canadian seized by U.S. officials and sent to Syria, where he claims he was tortured, has been dealt a major legal setback in his effort to sue U.S. government officials.

In the closely watched case of Canadian engineer Maher Arar, a federal appeals court has upheld a lower court ruling that rejected, on procedural grounds, his lawsuit seeking damages from top U.S. law enforcement officials.

"Arar's complaint must be dismissed because Arar's allegations regarding his removal to Syria do not state a claim" against the government officials, said the ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Because the claims need not be considered, the ruling said, the panel did not have to reach any conclusion on the merits of the torture allegations.

The Justice Department promptly issued a statement declaring it had prevailed.

"The Court of Appeals held that all of Arar's claims fail on legal grounds and affirmed the dismissal of the case in its entirety," the department said.

"Mr. Arar was lawfully deported -- not rendered -- to Syria," the statement said. "The U.S. government received assurances from Syria that he would not be tortured."

Attorneys for Arar denounced the ruling and promised an appeal.

"It makes me sick," said Maria LaHood, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights. "The ruling condones what U.S. officials did here, and makes it possible to do it again."

Arar sought damages from former Attorney General John Ashcroft, former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, FBI Director Robert Mueller, and several other ranking officials.

Arar's legal battles have received wide publicity in the United States and Canada.

The Ottawa government apologized to him for inaccurately telling the United States he was an Islamic fundamentalist with connections to al Qaeda.

Arar was detained initially in 2002 at Kennedy International Airport in New York while en route to Canada from Tunisia. He was turned over to Syria and held for a year before he was released without charges and returned to Canada. Canadian authorities paid Arar nearly $10 million to settle his suit against them.

Many members of the U.S. Congress have similarly expressed sympathy for Arar. At a congressional hearing last October, Arar testified by video hookup from Canada alleging torture by the Syrians after he was handed to them by U.S. officials.

U.S. anti-terrorist officials said they had secret evidence in addition to that provided by Canada linking Arar to terrorism.

The appellate court on Monday said if Congress wanted to pay Arar damages "to redress the type of claims asserted by Arar" it could do so.

"The fact remains, however that Congress has not done so," the court majority said.

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