World

U.S. Senators get few answers on Arar case

Two U.S. Senators say they met with American justice officials Thursday, but got few answers to their questions about why Syrian-born Canadian Maher Arar was deported from New York to Syria.

Two U.S. Senators say they met with American justice officials Thursday, but got few answers to their questions about why Syrian-born Canadian Maher Arar was deported from the United States to Syria, where he was tortured.

U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, shown earlier in January, has criticized American authorities for sending Maher Arar to Syria instead of Canada. ((CBC))
"We don't have a great deal to tell you," Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont,told reporters after the meeting. "We're going to have to ask a lot more questions."

Leahy and Senator Arlen Specter, a Republican senator from Pennsylvania, met with officials from the U.S. Justice Department for nearly two hours in Washington, D.C.

The senators said they were briefed about Arar's case, but would provide no details to reporters about what they learned. They said it was classified information.

Arar was flying home from a vacation in 2002 when he was arrested during a stopover at New York's JFK Airport. U.S. authorities, believing he had ties to terrorist organizations, deported him to Syria, where he was jailed for nearly a year and tortured.

"I have concerns," said Leahy. "My main concern is why, when you have your choice of sending someone to Canada or sending someone to Syria, why would you not send them to Canada, a country whose laws are akin to our own laws?"

Maher Arar, shown in 2006, is still on a watch list in the United States. ((CBC))
Arar, an engineer who was living in Ottawa at the time of his arrest, remains on a security watch list in the United States, even though his name was cleared by a federal inquiryin Canada.

In September 2006, the inquiry released a report concluding that there was no evidence ofArar being linked to militantsand that the RCMP provided misleading information to U.S. authorities, which may have led to his deportation.

Four months later, the Canadian government apologized to Arar, who now lives in Kamloops, B.C., and offered him $10.5 million in compensation, plus legal fees.

Specter said he can't understand why the United States is still watching Arar and banning him from flights, while Canada is apologizing to him and paying him millions.

"Why are there different conclusions between the government of Canada and the government of the United States?" he asked. "We need to know more about the facts to determine that."

Both he and Leahy said they don't have enough information to say whether Arar should be on the watch list or not.

"We've been asking these questions for a very, very long time and we intend to continue to ask the questions," Leahy said.

Leahy has expressed concern about the Arar case before, including onJan. 18, when he grilled U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales at a Senate judiciary committee hearing.

With files from the Canadian Press

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