Canadian terror suspect tortured in Syria after 'rendition' by US

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The Independent US

Campaigners have demanded that the Bush administration be held accountable for the illegal seizure of a Canadian citizen who was handed over to Syrian authorities and subsequently tortured.

They said the case of Maher Arar, who was cleared by a Canadian public inquiry of being any threat to that country's national security, exposed the faults of President Bush's "war on terror".

The inquiry concluded that Mr Arar, who was seized by US agents while changing planes at a New York airport in 2002 and incarcerated in Syria for 10 months, was the victim of false information about his alleged link to al-Qa'ida being passed by Canadian police to the US.

"I am able to say categorically that there is no evidence to indicate that Mr Arar has committed any offence or that his activities constitute a threat to the security of Canada," Dennis O'Connor, the Associate Chief Justice of Ontario who carried out the inquiry, said in the report.

Mr Arar, who was born in Syria, has detailed how he was tortured, beaten and whipped with electrical cable during his incarceration. The commission concluded Mr Arar's experiences in jail "fit squarely with the publicly reported Syrian practices of torturing prisoners".

At a press conference after the release of the report on Monday, Mr Arar said: "Justice O'Connor has cleared my name and restored my reputation. I call on the government of Canada to accept the findings of this report and hold these people responsible."

He added: "I have waited a long time to have my name cleared. I was tortured and lost a year of my life. I will never be the same. The United States must take responsibility for what it did to me and must stop destroying more innocent lives with its unlawful actions."

The conclusions of the inquiry - with which the US and Syrian authorities refused to co-operate - include a number of recommendations for the Canadian authorities, particularly the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. But campaigners said the inquiry exposed the unaccountability of the Bush administration and its ability to seize foreign citizens without a court order and arrange for their incarceration by governments known to have a record of torture.

Julia Hall, a campaigner with Human Rights Watch, said: "[The report] is only half justice for Maher Arar. There will not be justice until the US government is held accountable for these illegal transfers... Until there is a full exposé of the US's role there will only be half justice for Maher."

The US has been condemned for its "rendition" of prisoners to other countries where they have been covertly incarcerated and sometimes tortured.

The inquiry concluded that there was no evidence that Canadian officials participated in or agreed to the decision to send Mr Arar to Syria. But it recommended that in future cases information should not be provided to a foreign country where there is a risk that it could lead to a person being tortured.

Justice O'Connor recommended that the Canadian government file formal complaints with the US and Syrian governments. "They removed him to Syria against his wishes and in the face of his statements that he would be tortured if sent there," he said.

He also called for a full investigation into the cases of three other Syrian-Canadians who were incarcerated in Syria and apparently subjected to torture and mistreatment. The men - Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El Maati and Muayyed Nureddin - were held for various periods before being released.

A spokesman for the US Department of Justice, Charles Miller, said it had no comment on the inquiry's findings. The Department is opposing a lawsuit brought by Mr Arar against the Bush administration.

Mr Arar, a software engineer, is living in Kamloops, British Columbia, where his wife teaches at a university. Mr Arar said he has struggled to find work since he was released from Syrian custody as employers did not want "the publicity" associated with hiring him. He said being officially cleared could help him return to a normal life. "I know that once you are branded with something, as a killer or a terrorist, it's going to stay for life," he told the CanWest News Service prior to the report's release. "There's always doubt in people's minds, right?"

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