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Canada to compensate torture victim

Faulty data labeled him a terrorism suspect. U.S. sent him to Syria, where he was abused in prison.

January 27, 2007|Maggie Farley | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Canada's prime minister apologized and offered $8.9 million in compensation Friday to Maher Arar, a Canadian software engineer who, based on incorrect information, was deported by U.S. officials to Syria in 2002, where he was imprisoned and tortured for a year.

After being identified by Canadian police as an Islamic extremist in faulty intelligence shared with U.S. authorities, Arar was detained by American agents during a stopover at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport. They interrogated him for 11 days, then sent him to his native Syria, where he was tortured into making false confessions that he was involved with the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

The compensation, valued at $10.5 million in Canadian dollars, was announced by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in a televised news conference. It was recommended last fall by a Canadian judicial inquiry, which cleared Arar of terrorism links and determined that the Canadian government had passed along faulty intelligence and did not make adequate efforts to correct it.

The United States has refused to remove Arar from a terrorism watch list, however, and Harper said he had asked President Bush to clear him.

"We were clear, we don't believe Mr. Arar should be on the watch list," he said. "We will not drop this matter just because there is a disagreement and they don't like our position."

Harper also formally apologized to Arar, his wife and two children.

"On behalf of the government of Canada, I wish to apologize to you, Monia Mazigh and your family for any role Canadian officials may have played in the terrible ordeal that all of you experienced in 2002 and 2003," Harper said.

The settlement includes an additional $1.1 million to cover Arar's legal fees.

"We cannot go back and fix the injustice that occurred to Mr. Arar. However, we can make changes to lessen the likelihood that something like this will ever happen again," the prime minister said.

Arar accepted the apology at a separate, emotional news conference, saying the official acknowledgment of his innocence "means the world to me."

"The struggle to clear my name has been long and hard," he said, with 10 Canadian flags behind him and his lawyers at his side. He said he would like to use the compensation money somehow to help ensure that others don't end up in the same situation.

"This struggle has taught me how important it is to stand up for human rights," he said. "I feel proud as a Canadian, and I feel proud of what we've been able to achieve."

Arar's case has become one of the best-known examples of what is known as extraordinary rendition, a covert U.S. practice of sending terrorism suspects to other countries for detention and interrogation. Often those countries have more relaxed rules regarding the use of torture than the United States.

U.S. Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff have told Canadian officials that Arar will remain on the U.S. watch list because of information about him obtained independently by American authorities. Arar's wife and children are also on the list, and all are banned from flying into or over U.S. territories.

Canada's minister of public safety, Stockwell Day, reviewed the confidential U.S. file and said that it contained "nothing new" that would justify continuing to treat Arar as a terrorism suspect.

Arar tried to sue American officials and agencies over his detention and deportation, but the U.S. District Court of Appeals dismissed his suit last February, ruling that the action was protected on national security grounds. Arar is appealing the decision.

maggie.farley@latimes.com

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