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Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Some government we've got

Canadian citizen Maher Arar was detained at Kennedy Airport in 2002, locked up for several days, and then shipped off to Syria to be tortured. He is now, understandably, suing the US government, which should give him a few million dollars and beg his forgiveness, but won't:
Foreign citizens who change planes at airports in the United States can legally be seized, detained without charges, deprived of access to a lawyer or the courts, and even denied basic necessities like food, lawyers for the government said in Brooklyn federal court yesterday.
Judge David G. Trager of United States District Court prepared several written questions for lawyers on both sides to address further, including one that focused pointedly on Mr. Arar's accusations of illegal treatment in New York. He says he was deprived of sleep and food and was coercively interrogated for days at the airport and at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn when he was not allowed to call a lawyer, his family or the Canadian consul.

"Would not such treatment of a detainee - in any context, criminal, civil, immigration or otherwise - violate both the Constitution and clearly established case law?" Judge Trager asked.

The reply by Mary Mason, a senior trial lawyer for the government, was that it would not. Legally, she said, anyone who presents a foreign passport at an American airport, even to make a connecting flight to another country, is seeking admission to the United States. If the government decides that the passenger is an "inadmissible alien," he remains legally outside the United States - and outside the reach of the Constitution - even if he is being held in a Brooklyn jail.

Even if they are wrongly or illegally designated inadmissible, the government's papers say, such aliens have at most a right against "gross physical abuse."
Not to worry. Mary Mason, not to be confused with Perry Mason when it comes to defending the rights of the accused, says that US citizens don't have it as good as Arar did:
In some ways, she asserted, Mr. Arar had more rights than a United States citizen, because he could have challenged his deportation to Syria, which he had left as a teenager, under the Convention Against Torture. He also had 30 days to challenge his removal, she said.
Well, I feel better, don't you? Of course, there is the possibility that Arar might not have known all that without a lawyer. And it turns out he didn't even know he was being sent to Syria until he was already on the plane taking him there.