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He's suffered enough

Maher Arar, wrongfully deported and tortured in Syria, got an apology from Canada but not the U.S.

January 31, 2007

MAHER ARAR, a software engineer who was wrongly deported by the United States to his native Syria, where he was imprisoned and tortured for a year, has received an apology and an offer of $8.9 million from the government.

Before you think that the Bush administration has repented for mistreating Maher, we should add that the apology and the settlement offer came from the Canadian government, whose police force supplied the U.S. with faulty intelligence identifying Maher as an Islamic terrorist. The U.S. government, far from apologizing to Maher for seizing him at John F. Kennedy Airport in 2002 and sending him to Syria, refuses to remove his name from a terrorist watch list.

The administration hasn't made public the reasons for continuing that designation, although Justice Department and intelligence officials have agreed to brief Congress on the matter this week. Canada's minister of public safety, who has reviewed the confidential U.S. file on Arar, has said that it contains "nothing new" that would justify treating him as a terrorism suspect.

A Canadian inquiry exonerated Arar and concluded that U.S. authorities "removed him to Syria against his wishes and in the face of his statements that he would be tortured if sent there." Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper last week apologized for the "terrible ordeal" Arar endured. But not the Bush administration.

Is that because it has a legitimate reason to consider him dangerous? Or is it because an apology would draw attention to the policy of "extraordinary rendition" under which he and other suspected terrorists were spirited to other countries unburdened by U.S. notions of due process?

Because of the way it has conducted the war on terrorism, the Bush administration has lost the benefit of the doubt. Bush has insisted that "torture is never acceptable, nor do we hand over people to countries that do torture," but the facts say otherwise. The CIA kidnapped German citizen Khaled Masri in 2004 and flew him to Afghanistan for severe interrogation, a case that led German investigators to recommend issuing warrants against 13 U.S. intelligence operators. The president himself has said that the CIA used "an alternative set of procedures" to extract information from suspected terrorists.

Couple that record with the administration's general reluctance to confess error, and it's no wonder members of Congress are skeptical. If they aren't satisfied by the administration's explanations for continuing to stigmatize Arar, they should say so. And even at this late date, the president should examine his conscience and decide whether he doesn't owe this man and his family an apology.

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