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Report: Canadian Terror Suspect Tortured -- and Was Likely Innocent

The Associated Press and Reuters | September 19 2006

TORONTO Canadian police wrongly identified an Ottawa software engineer as an Islamic extremist, prompting U.S. agents to deport him to Syria, where he was tortured, an official inquiry concluded on Monday.

Maher Arar, who holds Canadian and Syrian nationality, was arrested in New York in September 2002 and accused of being an al-Qaeda member. In fact, said the judge who led the probe, all the signs point to the fact Arar was innocent.

Arar, 36, says he was repeatedly tortured in the year he spent in Damascus jails, and the inquiry agreed that he had been tortured. He was freed in 2003.

Judge Dennis O'Connor, who was asked by the Canadian government in 2004 to examine what had happened, found the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had wrongly told U.S. authorities that Arar was an Islamic extremist.

``The provision of this inaccurate information ...totally unacceptable'' and guaranteed the United States would treat Arar as a serious threat, O'Connor said.

``I am able to say categorically that there is no evidence to indicate that Mr Arar has committed any offense or that his activities constitute a threat to the security of Canada.''

Traveling on a Canadian passport, Arar was detained at a New York airport in September 2002 during a stopover on his way home to Canada from vacation in Tunisia. He claims he was a victim of extraordinary rendition -- or the transfer of foreign terror suspects to third countries without court approval.

Arar said U.S. authorities sent him to Syria for interrogation on suspicion of being a member of al Qaeda, an allegation he denied.

Canada's federal government established an inquiry in 2004 to determine the role Canadian officials played in the case of Arar, who has been cleared of any terrorist connections.

Justice O'Connor released the report on Arar that concluded the Royal Canadian Mounted Police passed misleading, inaccurate and unfair information to U.S. authorities that "very likely" led to their decision to send Arar to Syria, but found no evidence Canadian officials participated in or agreed to the decision.

"It's quite clear that the RCMP sent inaccurate information to U.S. officials," Arar said. "I would not have even been sent Syria had this information not been given to them."

O'Connor absolved Arar of all suspicion of terrorist activity and urged the federal government to offer financial compensation for his suffering. He concluded Arar had been tortured.

O'Connor sifted through thousands of pages of documents and sat through testimony from more than 40 witnesses. He delivered two versions of his report to the government: one classified, the other public. But portions of even the public edition of the long-awaited document will be withheld due to security concerns.

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