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Canadian forced to confess { November 6 2003 }

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Chretien Protests Deportation of Canadian
Prime Minister Calls U.S. Treatment of Terror Suspect 'Completely Unacceptable'

By DeNeen L. Brown and Dana Priest
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, November 6, 2003; Page A24

TORONTO, Nov. 5 -- Prime Minister Jean Chretien on Wednesday protested the U.S. treatment of a Canadian citizen who was detained in New York and deported to Syria last year on suspicion of having links to terrorists.

Chretien told Parliament that Foreign Minister Bill Graham had spoken with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and asked why the United States sent Maher Arar to Syria.

"It is completely unacceptable and deplorable what happened to this gentleman, who is a Canadian and who was sent to Syria rather than to his country of Canada," Chretien said. "We have protested."

Arar, 33, said at a news conference on Tuesday that he spent 10 months in a Syrian jail, where he was beaten, held in a small cell and forced to sign false confessions that he had been to Afghanistan.

Arar was born in Syria and holds dual Syrian-Canadian citizenship. He was traveling on Sept. 26, 2002, under his Canadian passport when he was detained while making a connection at John F. Kennedy International Airport. U.S. officials said Arar was detained and deported to Syria after his name appeared on an immigration watch list.

A high-ranking Syrian diplomat said Wednesday that Syria agreed to imprison Arar in a gesture of goodwill toward the United States.

"They told us he was an al Qaeda activist, so we took him and put him in custody," said Imad Moustafa, chargé d'affaires at the Syrian Embassy in Washington. "The U.S. was pressing us not to send him to Canada, the Canadians were pressing us to not send him to Syria."

Syrian officials freed Arar a month ago because the Bush administration cut communications with the government in Damascus and because they wanted to maintain good ties with the Canadian government, Moustafa said.

The release was a "political decision" made in Damascus, he said. "We believe there is no case against him." Moustafa said U.S. officials told the Syrians they had "solid information" about Arar's links to al Qaeda but never produced any.

U.S. officials confirm that in the year following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the CIA had a growing relationship with Syria. Syria had provided helpful information not only about al Qaeda but also about terrorist plots.

But by mid-2003, the Bush administration lessened ties and shut down the intelligence relationship, according to U.S. officials. The Bush administration charged that the Syrian government had allowed personnel and equipment to flow to Iraqi forces during the war.

Arar came under suspicion, in part, because of links to Abdullah Almalki, another Syrian-born Canadian imprisoned in Syria. Almalki was picked up by Syrian authorities in 2002 upon landing in Syria after a flight from Malaysia.

"The Syrians don't recognize his Canadian citizenship," said a Canadian official familiar with the case. The official said Canada is pressing for his release.

Arar said U.S. officials questioned him about why Almalki signed as a witness on a 1997 rental lease for Arar. Arar said he had forgotten that Almalki signed the lease and said he knew Almalki casually.

Arar said on Tuesday that when he was taken to the Sednaya prison in Syria, he saw Almalki. "He told me he had been severely tortured with the tire and the cable. He was also hanged upside down," Arar said.

Youssef Almalki, 25, said he did not know why Syrian authorities arrested his brother. "He arrived in the airport. My mom was there to greet him," said Youssef Almalki, also a dual national who lives in Ottawa. "She was hugging him. Then they snatched him away."

Canada's opposition parties demanded an investigation into Arar's case to expose what role Canadian agents played in passing information to U.S. officials.

"This is just another fishing expedition," Chretien said of the opposition demand. "The people who are responsible for the deportation of this gentleman to Syria are in the government of the United States, not the government of Canada."

Priest reported from Washington.

© 2003 The Washington Post Company

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