Syrian rendition row deepens as lawyer claims case not isolated

By Colin Brown, Jerome Taylor

The lawyer of a man who claims he was taken to Syria by the CIA and tortured said yesterday there were other examples of similar cases.

His remarks sparked renewed demands for a full inquiry into 'extraordinary rendition' in the UK.

Lorne Waldman, the human rights lawyer representing Maher Arar, said it was "ridiculous" for the US Ambassador to London, Robert Tuttle to deny any renditions by the US of terrorist suspects to Syria had taken place.

Mr Tuttle denied there was evidence of a rendition to Syria, but the US Embassy in London later issued a 'clarification' admitting there were reports of one case involving Mr Arar.

"The case of Mr Arar is too public for someone to claim they are not aware of it," Mr Waldman said on BBC radio.

"To suggest as the US ambassador did that they were not aware of the case is ridiculous." The lawyer said other suspects had also been shipped for torture by the CIA to Syria.

"This is part of a larger pattern. We know of other cases of other individuals who have been rendered," said Mr Waldman.

"He landed in Jordan - and was driven overland by the Jordanians to Syria -in the same CIA plane that was used to render other people to Egypt and other countries where they were tortured.

"So this was part of a well-known, well-documented pattern."

There was further embarrassment for the US when a former British ambassador to Demascus, Henry Hogger, appeared to confirm that Syria was being used by the CIA.

"What was going on in Syria at the time was not unlike the way it has been described," Mr Hogger said.

The US and Syria had worked together, particularly on counter-terrorism, despite public antagonism, he added.

"I'm not sure whether it is entirely correct to say that it is, as it were, an automatic assumption that anybody who was handed over to the Syrian authorities would automatically be tortured, he said.

"But I think it is clear from reports that are in the public domain that that is certainly a possibility that anyone looking after their nationals in a country would have to be concerned about.

"There certainly is a tradition of co-operation during a period, for most of the last few years, (although) at a public level their relationship had been a pretty antagonistic one," he added.

His remarks further undermine the assurances by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, repeated by Mr Tuttle, that the US does not "authorise (or) condone torture in any way".

A spokesman for the Commons all-party group on rendition said: "The momentum for a full inquiry is now becoming unstoppable. There are now inquiries in European countries, including Switzerland, Italy, Germany, and a public inquiry in Canada. Why should Britain be the odd one out?"

Mr Arar's lawyer said he had been 'brutally physically tortured' and had been held in a cell about the size of two coffins without light for months, which was also considered to be torture.

Mr Waldman's claims appear to be backed by the case of a German citizen who claims to have spent four years in a Syrian dungeon after he was abducted in Morocco and transported to Damascus as part of the US's "extraordinary rendition" programme.

Syrian-born Mohammed Hayder Zammar, 44, was arrested while in Morocco in October 2001 and transported allegedly by the CIA for questioning in Syria, a process some critics have described as "torture by proxy".

Very little has been heard from him since except for one telephone call from Syria's deputy foreign minister to the International Red Cross saying he is alive.

The US claims Zammar was a key member of al-Qaeda and helped recruit some of the 9/11 hijackers.

German police arrested him immediately after the 9/11 attacks but soon released him because of a lack of evidence.

On October 27th 2001, Zammar booked a flight via Amsterdam to Casablanca where he was thinking of moving his family to. His wife and six have not seen him.

On the morning of his return flight to Hamburg he was arrested by the Moroccans and within two weeks was flown by the US into Syrian custody.

According to Amnesty International, Zammar, who used to weigh 145kg, now looks "skeletal" following his four year detention in a Syrian prison renowned for its brutality and harsh interrogation methods.

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