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Maher Arar

Arar says he was tortured

Maher Arar

Maher Arar, the dual Canadian-Syrian citizen who spent a year in a Syrian jail, reportedly told Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham that he was tortured while in Syrian custody.

Mr. Arar and his wife had a private meeting with Mr. Graham on Wednesday, where CBC Newsworld reported that he provided details of his alleged torture.

But Thursday afternoon, Mr. Graham refused to confirm or deny any element of what he discussed with Mr. Arar.

"My undertaking to him was that I would keep the results of that meeting confidential to allow him to go public with his situation when he deems it appropriate.

"I don't know exactly when that will be, I understand it will be shortly. I am respecting that engagement."

Wednesday's meeting was the first time that Mr. Arar has spoken to the federal government about his alleged torture, but allegations that he was tortured have swirled since his release earlier this month.

Mr. Arar was returning to Canada from Tunisia in September, 2003 when he was detained at Kennedy Airport in New York. The United States deported him to Syria, where he spent a year in jail before being unexpectedly released. He was never charged with any crime.

Since his return to Canada, Mr. Arar has said nothing publicly about his treatment.

In his meeting with Mr. Graham, Mr. Arar also thanked Canadians for helping to aid his release, Newsworld said.

But he also asked Mr. Graham to call on the RCMP to help track down the source of leaks that suggested that while in custody, Mr. Arar gave Syrian officials information about the al-Qaeda terrorist network in Canada. Reports last week had quoted federal officials as saying that Mr. Arar, 33, had offered detailed information on people suspected of terrorist links.

But his family has always maintained Mr. Arar had nothing to do with the al-Qaeda terrorist organization.

Mr. Graham denounced the leaks. He said Solicitor-General Wayne Easter is committed to a police inquiry.

"Let's not compromise that process...and particularly make statements which put a Canadian's citizen's [life at risk]."

"I totally, absolutely, utterly condemn all forms of this speculative statement about someone's life."

But he added that he is confident his department was not responsible for the leaks.

Mr. Graham did not commit to a public inquiry into the Arar affair, despite calls from the opposition, a Canadian civil liberties group and Mr. Arar's family.

He said Mr. Easter is conducting a police inquiry and should Mr. Arar want further action, he will ask for it.

"Let Mr. Arar, when he's had his chance, to come and state what he wants to do and the government will react to it."

Ottawa rules out inquiry into Arar case

Montreal and Ottawa - Maher Arar, reunited with his wife and children yesterday, thanked fellow Canadians as he arrived home after being held for more than a year in a Syrian jail as a suspected terrorist.

Neither Mr. Arar nor Canadian officials shed any light on the reasons for his detention, or for his sudden release on the weekend.

In Ottawa, Solicitor-General Wayne Easter rejected calls for a public investigation that have come from opposition and Liberal MPs and human-rights groups.

"I will not agree to an inquiry," he said.

U.S. authorities, who sent Mr. Arar to Syria after arresting him at John F. Kennedy International Airport last year, refused to comment on the surprise release.

Riad Saloojee, executive director of the Canadian section of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the federal government will still have to answer some troubling questions "before there can be any sense of closure in this case."

Mr. Arar made only a few brief comments publicly, confining himself to thanks.

He flew into Montreal's Dorval Airport from France, meeting his wife and two young children privately. He hugged the children and his wife, Monia Mazigh.

According to Mr. Saloojee, a family friend, Ms. Mazigh's first words to her husband were, "You're safe now."

Exhausted from his time in a Syrian prison and the long journey home, Mr. Arar thanked Canadians for their help in reuniting him with his wife and children.

"I'm very glad to get back home. I'm so excited to see my family again," Mr. Arar, 33, said in a barely audible voice. "My kids grew up in the past year. . . ."

Clutching his wife's hand under the table at an impromptu news conference at the airport, he then said, "I want to thank my fellow Canadians who helped to get me back."

Wearing a red Maple Leaf pin on his navy blue sweater, he looked pale and nervous. His wife, who led a year-long, high-profile effort to have him freed, said her husband's deportation from the United States and imprisonment in Syria "has been a terrible tragedy for our family."

Mr. Arar, an Ottawa resident, was arrested by U.S. officials at the New York airport while changing planes in September of last year. They deported him to his native Syria, even though he was travelling on a Canadian passport.

Syrian intelligence officials have told Canadian representatives they believe Mr. Arar belongs to the terrorist group al-Qaeda. The Syrians charged that Mr. Arar had received military training at an al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan, an allegation his wife flatly denied.

Ms. Mazigh, angered by the suffering her family endured, vowed to find out why U.S. authorities arrested her husband and sent him to Syria instead of Canada.

"I thank all Canadians who helped us during this nightmare so that there would be justice for my husband." Shaking her right index finger, she added, "This is just a beginning of justice."

The family went off for a few quiet days together out of the spotlight without saying whether Mr. Arar had been tortured.

In due course, Ms. Mazigh said, "we will answer all of the questions of all Canadians. They must know the truth."

Mr. Saloojee, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (Canada), said it was clear Mr. Arar had been mistreated. "He was clearly devastated physically and emotionally."

Arriving on an Air France flight from Paris, Mr. Arar met his wife, mother and mother-in-law before spending a couple of hours with his children and extended family.

Mr. Saloojee and Alex Neve, the secretary-general of the Canadian section of Amnesty International, witnessed the family reunion.

"It was pure and unbridled emotion to see the family reunited. . . . It was an overwhelming moment," Mr. Neve said.

He said the reports of torture have to be taken seriously, but Mr. Arar may not be able to speak publicly about his ordeal until he talks to his family.

Mr. Saloojee said Mr. Arar spoke mostly about his children, asking how they have been doing, rather than about his detention.

Mr. Arar's 19-month old son, Houd, did not know his father, Mr. Neve said. His daughter, Baraa, 6, has drawings she wants to show her father at home.

Mr. Arar was surprised that he was released, Mr. Neve said, and did not know his case was a cause célèbre in Canada. People from across the country expressed outrage at Mr. Arar's deportation. Mr. Saloojee said Mr. Arar expressed gratitude for Canada's "quiet diplomacy."

The Ottawa man had been scheduled to stand trial later this month in a Syrian military court but was unexpectedly released on Sunday.

Mr. Easter, the minister responsible for the RCMP, is to appear before a parliamentary committee Tuesday to answer questions about the case.

Mr. Neve said Mr. Arar might be able to seek compensation from Syria, Canada or the United States if an inquiry shows he was tortured and if any U.S. or Canadian officials were complicit in his wrongful deportation.

Mr. Neve said the United States got off easily. "The fact Canada pressured Syria but not the United States was a problem for us."

Two other Canadian citizens are being held in Syria, but the families of Abdullah Almalki and Arwad Al-Bouchi have not sought assistance from human-rights groups or the general public.

Mr. Saloojee said that now that Mr. Arar is safely home, Ottawa can explain what role the RCMP played in his original detention, what information Canadian agencies passed along to the Americans and whether that was the reason the Ottawa man was arrested in New York.

Mr. Easter has said that someone in the RCMP could have given U.S. officials incriminating information that caused them to place Mr. Arar's name on a border-point watch list.

Senior RCMP officials may not have known about it, he said earlier this year.

Mr. Saloojee said the Arar case sent a chill through Canada's Arab community, making many fearful that their own government could not protect them in the Middle East, a fear that has not abated.

At the U.S. embassy in Ottawa, officials refused to comment on the Arar case. In Washington, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department said he was not aware of Mr. Arar's release.

"I don't know that this gentleman was released, so I don't have any comment at this point. I'll have to look into that," spokesman Richard Boucher said.

Canadian and U.S. government sources say Mr. Arar was the target of a joint Canada-U.S. security investigation long before his arrest in New York. One U.S. source said information from the RCMP resulted in Mr. Arar being placed on the watch list that is used to screen arriving passengers at U.S. ports of entry.

The U.S. ambassador to Canada, Paul Cellucci, told a private gathering in Ottawa this spring that Canadian law-enforcement agencies didn't want Mr. Arar returned to this country.

Speaking to the Ottawa branch of the Harvard Club, Mr. Cellucci said: "Mr. Arar is very well known to Canadian law enforcement. They understand our handling of the case. They wouldn't be happy to see him come back to Canada."

Syria releases jailed Canadian: Deported by U.S.

Ottawa man tastes freedom after year spent in custody

OTTAWA - The Ottawa man who languished for a year in a Syrian jail after being deported from the United States as a suspected terrorist will be reunited with his anxious family today.

Maher Arar, who spent his 33rd birthday in custody, left Damascus yesterday with a Canadian official after his unexpected release.

Last night, the family's tiny Ottawa apartment was a scene of chaos and joy as tearful well-wishers joined his wife Monia Mazigh and their two young children, who learned of Mr. Arar's movements yesterday after a phone call from Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham.

Mr. Graham received a call from Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq Sharaa telling him Mr. Arar would be released within 24 or 48 hours. There was no explanation why the Syrians held him for 12 months or for his sudden release.

Mr. Arar, a Canadian of Syrian birth, was arrested as a suspected terrorist 13 months ago by U.S. authorities as he passed through JFK International Airport in New York.

His case became a cause célèbre among Canadian human-rights groups and Canadian Arabs and Muslims and for a time strained relations between Ottawa and Washington because the United States deported him to the Middle East instead of Canada even though he was travelling on a Canadian passport.

Ms. Mazigh expects her husband to arrive tonight on a flight from Paris, where he is staying overnight after his release from prison.

Amid the confusion of ringing phones and fresh arrivals at the door, the couple's oldest child, daughter Baraa, 6, showed off a picture she had drawn of herself with her parents and little brother.

The baby brother, Houd, 19 months, looked wide-eyed with wonder as his grandmother, Najat, arrived from Montreal. Alex Neve, secretary-general of the Canadian chapter of Amnesty International, was also among the well-wishers at their home.

"[Houd] doesn't understand what's happening," Ms. Mazigh said. But Baraa couldn't contain her excitement at the prospect of showing her father her schoolwork and her pictures.

Ms. Mazigh said it was 374 days since she had last spoken with her husband. At that time, he was in a Brooklyn detention centre awaiting deportation from the United States.

And the last time she is certain her husband received any mail or pictures of the children was in February when a Canadian delegation, including some members of Parliament, visited him at a government office in Damascus.

Ms. Mazigh said there have been so many emotional ups and downs that she wasn't sure if it was some sort of prank when she got a phone call about noon from Mr. Graham, who telephoned from Rome where he is attending a conference.

"I was so afraid it was not true."

She soon realized this really was the minister and he was telling her that her husband was at that very hour sitting in the Canadian embassy in Damascus, having been just released by the Syrians. He would be on the first flight to Europe.

Haitham al-Maleh, Mr. Arar's lawyer, was caught by surprise by Mr. Arar's sudden release. Reached at his home in Damascus last night, Mr. al-Maleh -- who may be Syria's best-known human-rights activist -- asked when informed of the news: "Is this a joke?"

He said he had been in court two days earlier, seeking Mr. Arar's release, and had been turned down.

Ms. Mazigh said it was only after she received a second phone call from Mr. Graham's assistant, Robert Fry, that she could believe Mr. Arar was safely out of Syria and on board a flight to Paris.

"I knew this was really serious," she said.

Mr. Fry said Mr. Arar looked to be in good physical shape. A London-based Syrian human-rights group reported this summer that Mr. Arar had been tortured.

It was a claim that had to be taken seriously given Syria's poor human-rights record, Mr. Neve said.

Ms. Mazigh said she was staying perched by the telephone, waiting for her husband to call from Paris. "I lived this nightmare and now it is a dream for me."

Last night, Ms. Mazigh said although some questions about his detention will wait until the family is reunited, her husband's release does not end the matter.

"He was accused of being a terrorist and all these false things. He needs to clear his name," she said. There are also a number of still unanswered questions about the possible role the RCMP played in the case, she said in an interview.

Mr. Graham emphasized last night, in the conference call from Rome, that any security concerns surrounding Mr. Arar would be dealt with in Canada. This, he said, had been Canada's goal all along, but he refused to elaborate beyond specifying that Mr. Arar won't be taken into custody once he returns to Canada.

The circumstances surrounding Mr. Arar's deportation have always remained unclear. The widespread belief in the Canadian government is that Mr. Arar may have had friends or acquaintances who were being investigated by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, and that he may have appeared -- as a result -- on wiretaps or lists of those under surveillance. He would have been, in the terminology used in security circles, a person of interest.

Such information is often shared with U.S. authorities.

"Our impression is that he's clean," a Canadian official said.

Mr. Graham defended Canada's strategy of persistent diplomacy last night, pointing out that it had ultimately paid dividends. The singular message passed along to the Syrian government and to those governments that have influence over Damascus, he said, was that Canadians want to know they'll be treated properly in the Middle East.

In particular, he said, it is unlikely that anything would have been served by a more public approach, which he characterized as "more screaming and yelling."

Canadian Alliance foreign affairs critic Stockwell Day even got into an argument last week in Ottawa with Amr Moussa, the head of the Arab League. "I don't frankly think that type of thing is helpful," Mr. Graham said.

The pressure had been steady, he added, involving Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, and including efforts to engage the Bush administration in the issue. "This represented [a serious problem] for Canada-Syrian relations," Mr. Graham said. "The Syrians realized they should take steps."

'Canadians are losing their freedom'

Wife of Ottawa man deported by U.S. to Syria tells public the nightmare she's experiencing should worry everyone

Arar family

The wife of Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian accused of having links to al-Qaeda and deported from the U.S. to Syria in early October, wants Canadians to realize her "personal nightmare" is theirs as well.

"By keeping Maher in Syria," said Monia Mazigh, "Canadians are losing a little bit of their freedom and democracy ... by putting him in a place and putting their trust in another legal system than ours."

About 40 people -- including former NDP leader Alexa McDonough -- joined Mrs. Mazigh in a candlelight vigil on Parliament Hill yesterday as she urged the Canadian government to work harder to bring her husband home.

It was Mrs. Mazigh's 76th day without her husband.

Mr. Arar, 32, a self-employed Ottawa telecommunications engineer, was detained by U.S. officials at New York City's Kennedy Airport on Sept. 26 while travelling back to Canada from Tunisia, where he was vacationing with his family.

The U.S. accused him of belonging to a foreign terrorist organization and deported him to Syria, a country he hadn't set foot in since immigrating to Canada at age 17 in 1988.

After a mysterious two-week period, during which no one in the Canadian, American or Syrian governments could say where Mr. Arar was, Syrian authorities told the Canadian ambassador in Damascus he had arrived there Oct. 21. They said he arrived from Jordan.

He is now imprisoned in an unknown location by Syrian authorities while they investigate possible terrorism links.

"I want the Canadian government to bring my husband home," said Mrs. Mazigh, holding the couple's 10-month-old son, Hood, as she held a candle aloft. "I want more than words. I want my husband back."

Supporters braved -15C temperatures to show their solidarity with a woman who says she is "living a nightmare."

Ms. McDonough said Mr. Arar's case gave all Canadians cause to worry. "We're living in dangerous times," said Ms. McDonough. "Maher Arar was detained, imprisoned, interrogated, and deported without the benefit of legal counsel, without consular access, without any explanation to his family. With no explanation to government. This should be a concern to every Canadian."

Yesterday, Foreign Affairs Department spokesman Reynald Doiron said an American immigration document dated Oct. 7 linked Mr. Arar "to a foreign terrorist organization identified as al-Qaeda."

Neither the U.S. nor Canadian government has disclosed any proof of those alleged links.

Mrs. Mazigh, whose two children were born in Canada, said she wants more than veiled accusations against her husband. "They're hiding behind clichés," she said. "We're not showing you proof for 'security reasons?' What security reasons?

"Show us this proof that you have," she said. "Put him on trial. That's fair enough. I'm not asking for anything more."

Yesterday, Theresa Cavanagh, 45, said she had come to Parliament Hill "to let the government know that this has not gone unnoticed."

"There's a lot of tension in the air these days," she said. "But that doesn't permit the suspension of people's rights."

Judy Randall, 59, said she identified with Mrs. Mazigh as a wife and a mother.

"She has two young children who don't know where their father is," she said during the vigil on the Hill. "I think it's an outrage that the Canadian government hasn't done more to help this Canadian citizen."

Mr. Arar was travelling on a Canadian passport when he was detained in New York. Yesterday, Mr. Doiron said that because Mr. Arar is a dual national, his detention in Syria is a matter for its government and not ours.

"I'm not trying to defend the Syrian position on this," said Mr. Doiron. "Suffice it to say that they are not obliged under the Vienna Convention on consular relations to keep us apprised of his situation."

Amnesty International said yesterday the Syrian government does not allow its nationals to renounce their citizenship.

Mr. Doiron said consular officials in Damascus have been allowed four visits with Mr. Arar. Each time, he has arrived from an undisclosed location in the back of a van. The meetings have occurred under the watchful eyes of Syrian guards, who do not allow certain topics of conversation. A fifth meeting is scheduled for this week.

The only communication between Mrs. Mazigh and her husband in the last 76 days has come in the form of brief, scribbled notes passed through consular officials.

Canadian deported from U.S. reaches Syria

OTTAWA - After days of mystery surrounding the whereabouts of a Canadian citizen deported by the United States to his native Syria, he has turned up in the Middle Eastern country.

The Foreign Affairs Department said Monday that it had just been informed by the Syrian government that Maher Arar, an engineer, had arrived from neighbouring Jordan.

Spokeswoman Isabelle Savard said Canadian embassy officials were trying to meet with Mr. Arar, who works as a consultant in Ottawa.

She said she didn't know if he was under arrest and she had no details of when he left the U.S. or how he was sent to the Mideast.

Details of Mr. Arar's case are sketchy. He was arrested last month at New York's Kennedy Airport where he was in transit to Canada from Tunisia. He was deported sometime this month on accusations he had links to the al-Qaeda terrorist network.

Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham has condemned the United States for deporting a Canadian.

Canadian officials have said Mr. Arar was deported without benefit of a lawyer. The lawyer chosen by Mr. Arar on the advice of Canadian consular representatives didn't show up for the dual Syrian-Canadian citizen's immigration hearing Oct. 7 in New York, an official said last week.

Feds protest U.S. deportation of CDN to Syria

MONTREAL - The federal government has registered a protest with the United States for its decision to deport to Syria an Ottawa engineer accused of having links to al-Qaeda, Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham said Wednesday.

And the department is doing all it can to try to find Maher Arar, a 32-year-old Canadian citizen arrested during a stopover at New York's Kennedy airport on Sept. 26 as he was travelling to Montreal from Tunisia.

Arar, a telecommunications engineer, has dual Canadian-Syrian citizenship.

But Graham said he was informed by U.S. officials that Arar was deported to Syria instead of Canada. He met with U.S. Ambassador Paul Cellucci on Tuesday to discuss the matter.

"I have registered our protest to the United States,'' Graham said after a speech to a conference on global governance and civil society.

"Our position is a person travelling on a Canadian passport ... has a right to be treated as a Canadian citizen and we have, in international law, a right to have consular access to that person.''

Amal Oummih, an immigration lawyer in New York who tried to help Arar while he was detained, said earlier this week that a U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service document she examined indicated Arar was being detained "for allegedly being a member of a terrorist organization, to wit al-Qaeda.''

However, it was not clear whether Arar has been charged with any offence.

Graham said Arar's case is one of many in which Canadians who hold a second passport don't have their Canadian passports recognized. He added that U.S. officials told him they felt they had every right to send Arar to Syria because he has citizenship there.

But Arar's supporters in Canada have said he could face severe punishment in Syria because he avoided compulsory military service before leaving the country for Canada as a teenager.

Arar was in Tunisia visiting his wife's family with the couple's two children.

Arar's wife, Monica, has called the whole incident "insane'' and denied her husband has any ties to terrorism.

Normally, a U.S. immigration court would deport a foreign citizen back to his last point of departure - in this case Zurich - but Mr. Arar was ordered sent to Syria.

Mr. Arar's family in Montreal was expecting him to return Sept. 26 following his trip to Tunisia.

Mr. Arar's supporters in Canada have said he could face severe punishment in Syria because he avoided compulsory military service before leaving the country for Canada as a teenager.

New U.S. laws permit officials to detain Canadian citizens born in Syria and several other Middle Eastern countries, forcing them to provide fingerprints, be photographed and fill out a form detailing their travel plans.

Canada says the law is discriminatory.

Mr. Arar, who came to Canada in 1987 and was naturalized in 1991, made one call to his family on Oct. 3. The family contacted Canadian authorities and Amal Oummih, an immigration lawyer in New York.

Ms. Oummih has said Mr. Arar was confused, scared and emotional when she met him Oct. 5.

She said Mr. Arar told her he was interrogated for several hours by U.S. immigration officials and FBI investigators, and refused to sign an agreement to be deported to Syria.

Tragedy of Arar

Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen, has disappeared

On Oct. 10, 2002, the 32-year-old Montreal communications engineer was made to disappear by the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Claiming he was a suspected terrorist, on grounds it still refuses to make public, the INS deported Mr. Arar from New York, where he had come on Sept. 26 to make a connecting flight home from Zurich. He was deported not to Canada, but to his native Syria.

His family has not heard from him since.

Mr. Arar is a Canadian citizen who left Syria at age 17 and who was travelling on a Canadian passport when arrested by the INS.

He has had no difficulty in the past working in the U.S. for a leading scientific software firm and is still listed on the firm's Web site publication as a contributor and technical reviewer.

His U.S. lawyer, who was not notified in time to be present at his deportation, says Mr. Arar was terrified the INS wanted to deport him to Syria, where he feared he would be punished for avoiding military service as a teenager.

She says he was disoriented, confused and sobbing when she interviewed him.

Canadian Foreign Minister Bill Graham has protested Mr. Arar's handling by U.S. authorities. He says anyone travelling on a Canadian passport has the right to be treated as a Canadian citizen. He is absolutely right.

The U.S., Mr. Graham told The Herald's editorial board on Friday, has not explained why Mr. Arar wasn't deported to Canada.

But he said his focus now is to enlist Syrian assistance to find Mr. Arar and ensure his safety.

The U.S., he says, did meet its obligation of providing consular access to Mr. Arar. Under U.S. law it also had the authority to choose to deport him to Syria, because he is also a Syrian citizen. But why Washington would make this choice - an outrageous one - remains a mystery.

Ensuring Mr. Arar's safety is the first concern. But it is also a grave issue that U.S. authorities have treated Canadians with utter contempt in this matter. Washington owes Canada a full explanation of its conduct. It should also be helping to locate the Canadian it caused to vanish.

Is the U.S. refusal to provide an explanation a matter of protecting intelligence? Or is it a bureaucratic coverup of bungling by INS officials who sent an innocent man to Syria?

We have no way of knowing. We are supposed to have blind trust that American authorities have acted fairly and reasonably.

Yet the few facts we do know hardly support that assumption. They suggest, instead, that INS officials acted capriciously, without regard for rudimentary due process, and, indeed, absurdly even from a national security standpoint.

Mr. Arar's lawyer says he was interrogated at his deportation proceeding without legal representation. What sort of fairness was that?

If U.S. authorities considered Mr. Arar a terrorist, why send him to Syria, which Washington has designated a terrorist-sponsoring state?

Wouldn't this amount to putting him into circulation? Wouldn't Washington be the first to object if another country acted so foolishly?

Why would Canada, Mr. Arar's country of residence as well as citizenship, be considered less appropriate than Syria as a deportation destination? This makes a mockery of Canada-U.S. initiatives over the past year to work more closely on immigration, security and border issues.

The INS should read some fine words Jean Chretien and George Bush included in their Sept. 9 statement on border co-operation: "We are neighbours bound together by common values: freedom, democracy, the rule of law, the inherent dignity and rights of every human being." You wouldn't guess that from the Arar case.

The U.S. would never accept such treatment of one of its citizens without any explanation beyond "trust us, he's a bad guy." It shouldn't expect its friend and neighbour to do so, either.