From cooperation, to complicity, to compensation: The war on terror, extraordinary rendition, and the cost of torture

Attention has turned recently to the human rights implications of Western states’ cooperation with the United States in the so-called War on Terror. This paper presents the ordeal of Canadian Maher Arar as a case-study in how one state responded to contentions of complicity in the extraordinary rendition of one of its nationals. Relying in part on faulty intelligence supplied by Canada, Arar was rendered by the United States to Syria. He was imprisoned and tortured for almost a year before Canada secured his release. Under considerable public pressure, the Canadian government appointed an independent public inquiry to examine the events surrounding his rendition. Following the release of the report and its recommendations, the Canadian government formally apologized to Arar and paid him substantial compensation. The author provides an account of the function performed by independent public inquiries in responding to public calls for government accountability in face of alleged wrongdoing. The paper describes the challenge posed by competing demands for publicity and secrecy in the particular context of controversial actions taken in the name of national security. Finally the author considers the precedential value of the Arar Inquiry for other jurisdictions that face similar allegations regarding complicity in human rights violations, as well as the task of devising a fair and reasonably open process against claims of national security confidentiality.

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