My organization, the Institute for Policy Studies, gave its annual human rights award this fall to Maher Arar, an innocent man the Bush administration falsely accused of being linked to Al Qaeda. His chilling case represents an opportunity for the new Democratic leadership in Congress to show the world that America has not entirely forgotten its proud history on human rights.
The general outline of Mr. Arar's story has been widely publicized. He is the joint Canadian-Syrian citizen who was detained at New York's JFK Airport in 2002 and "rendered" to Syria, a country the United States State Department accuses of routinely using torture. Syrian intelligence agents brutally tortured Arar – a fact confirmed by a Canadian inquiry – before releasing him nearly a year later without charging him.
Arar protested to the Canadian government and it conducted an in-depth inquiry into his case. When it declared him innocent of all terrorist ties in September, the Canadian House of Commons swiftly passed a unanimous motion apologizing to Arar. The head of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which provided misleading evidence against Arar to US agents that led to his arrest, also apologized to him and his family.
The Bush administration refused to cooperate with that Canadian inquiry and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales continues to deny any wrongdoing. I sent Mr. Gonzales a letter in early October requesting that, at a minimum, he clear Arar's name and lift the ban on his entry to the United States so that he could attend the awards ceremony in Washington.