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More than 60,000 people ask President Barack Obama to apologise to Maher Arar

WASHINGTON - More than 60,000 people have signed a petition asking U.S. President Barack Obama to formally apologise to Maher Arar, the Canadian who became a symbol of human rights abuses following the 9-11 terrorist attacks.

Maher Arar

The petition was organized by three U.S.-based human rights groups - Amnesty International USA, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It was delivered to the White House on Monday.

In 2002, Arar was detained by U.S. authorities during a stopover in New York en route to Canada from a Tunisian vacation on suspicion he was a member of al-Qaida.

He was held in the U.S. without access to a lawyer, before being deported to his country of birth, Syria, where he was imprisoned without charge and tortured for almost a year before finally being allowed to return to Canada.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the RCMP apologised to Arar and a judicial inquiry concluded he was not a terrorist.

The government awarded him $10.5 million.

Though Arar was detained and rendered to torture during the George W. Bush administration, the human rights groups say they believe the responsibility now falls on President Obama to issue an apology to Arar on behalf of the United States.

"The bottom line is that Arar was held illegally, stripped of his rights and rendered to a brutal Syrian regime where he was tortured - all at the behest of the United States," Suzanne Nossel, Amnesty International USA executive director said in a statement posted on the group's website.

"Despite being freed and exonerated by his home country, Canada, the United States has never apologised to Arar. This is unconscionable. There must be accountability for torture. To do anything less is a blatant miscarriage of justice."

The human rights activists are asking Obama to issue the apology to Arar and all of "the victims of U.S.-sponsored torture" when he makes a statement on June 26, the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.