US apologises for torturing Canadian

WASHINGTON - US lawmakers have offered apologies to a Canadian citizen who was deported by US counterterrorism officials to Syria, where he says he was imprisoned and tortured.

Lawmakers from both parties also called on the Bush administration to apologise to Maher Arar, a Syrian-born software engineer still barred from entering the United States even though the Canadian government has cleared him of any links to terrorist groups.

"Our country made a mistake and has been unwilling to own up to it," California Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher said. "It reflects an arrogance I don't like to see in our government."

An administration official said she was not aware of any plans for the White House to issue an apology to Arar.

Arar described his ordeal to the House of Representatives Judiciary and Foreign Affairs committees via video link.

"The America I see and hear about today is not the same America I admired when I lived there from 1999 to 2001," he said.

Arar was arrested during a stopover in New York in 2002 on his way home to Canada from a holiday and was deported to Syria. He says he was tortured during the year he spent in Damascus jails.

US officials deported him after the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said he was a suspected Islamic extremist, but an official Canadian inquiry last year cleared him of any links to militant groups.

The Canadian government apologized and in January paid Arar compensation of $C10.5 million, equivalent to US$8.9 million at the time and US$10.2 million now. The US government has sought to dismiss his case in the United States on the grounds that it would violate state secrets.

"The Canadians have acknowledged their mistake. It's this nation, this government, this administration, that has failed," said Massachusetts Democratic Representative Bill Delahunt.

Arar said he still suffers from nightmares, feels emotionally distant from his wife and children and has had trouble working.

"I am not the same person I was. I have come to accept this as part of my new life, but I want to make sure no one else goes through what I went through," he said.

The United States acknowledges it has conducted "renditions" - secret international transfers of terrorist suspects, often to countries with dubious human-rights records. The government says the programme has prevented further attacks.

Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd said Arar was deported to Syria because he maintained dual citizenship there. The United States received assurances from Syria that he would not be tortured, Boyd said.

Arar told the committees he was beaten with electric cables, kept in a cell measuring 1.8 metres by 90cm and did not see sunlight for six months.

He said Syria would not let him renounce his citizenship when he emigrated to Canada as a teenager.

"The most fundamental question that has not been answered yet is: Why did the US government decide to send me to Syria and not to Canada?" he said.

- REUTERS


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