Canadian arar calls detention beyond human imagination
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Arar calls detention 'beyond human imagination'
CTV.ca News Staff
Speaking out publicly for the first time since returning to Canada from a year spent in a Syrian jail as a suspected terrorist, Maher Arar said his life and career have been "destroyed" by the experience.
"I still cannot believe what has happened to me and how my life and career have been destroyed," Arar said at an Ottawa news conference, his first comments on his detention since he returned home four weeks ago.
Arar, a Canadian citizen, is demanding a public inquiry and is denouncing allegations he has terrorist ties.
"I am not a terrorist. I am not a member of al Qaeda and I do not know anyone who belongs to this group," Arar told reporters.
Arar was returning to Canada from a visit to Tunisia last fall, when he was detained while transferring planes at New York's Kennedy airport. After arresting him as an al Qaeda suspect, American authorities detained Arar for close to two weeks.
He was then deported to his country of birth, Syria.
Ten months in a 'grave'
As soon as he arrived, Arar said he was subjected to beatings by security officials that continued throughout his imprisonment in a jail cell he described as a "grave."
"It had no light. It was three feet wide. It was six feet deep. It was seven feet high," Arar said, adding that there was little light or air in the cramped cell.
"I spent 10 days and 10 months inside that grave," with nothing more than two blankets, two dishes and two bottles.
And as his confinement dragged on, Arar said the torture became unbearable.
"They kept beating me until I had to falsely confess... I would have said anything to stop the torture... I remember I urinated on myself twice," Arar said.
"At the end of each day they would always say tomorrow will be harder. So each night I could not sleep."
Arar said his life in jail was "hell" -- marked by threats of electric shock, being subjected to the tortured screams of other prisoners, and, notably, a thrashing with shredded cables that lasted 18 hours.
"What I went through is just beyond human imagination."
When he was unexpectedly released on Oct. 4, the Syrian embassy in Ottawa said that despite a year-long investigation, authorities in Damascus never found grounds to press charges.
Arar has never been charged in either the United States or Canada.
Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham said he has spoken with the Syrian ambassador to Canada on Arar's allegations.
"I am deeply disturbed by Mr. Arar's account of his treatment while in detention in Syria. I have called upon the Syrian government to take these allegations of torture seriously and to act quickly to investigate all of the details of Mr. Arar's detention, as well as those of other Canadians being held in Syria," Graham said in a statement.
Public inquiry demanded
Although Arar refused to speculate what forces had steered him to the Syrian prison, he admitted his suspicions were aroused while he was being questioned at the outset of his ordeal.
"The information they had was so private, I thought it must have come from Canada."
When reporters pressed Arar to elaborate, however, he told them "the best way to know is to have a public inquiry."
But Arar's lawyer Lorne Waldman was less diplomatic.
"This is the first time my government is implicated in inflicting torture on another person," Waldman said, explaining why he believes a full public inquiry is imperative.
"It appears that our Canadian security services are prepared to use rogue states like Syria to do what they are legally barred to do in Canada -- torture in order to extract information and confessions."
Prime Minister Jean Chretien has already rejected Arar's calls for an inquiry, saying appropriate steps are being taken.
"We have a process. When people make accusations, there is a process under the law which is being followed at this time," Chretien told reporters after his cabinet meeting Tuesday.
The minister responsible for Arar's file told reporters he agrees with the prime minister on this issue.
"Let's give this a chance to work... let's use what we have," Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham said.
The RCMP's civilian Public Complaints Commission announced its own investigation into Mounties' possible involvement in the case on Oct. 24.
Canadian officials have said that before Arar was deported, Americans had consulted with the RCMP. But the Mounties have insisted they were not told U.S. plans involved sending Arar to a Syrian jail.
Arar's return could have come sooner
Earlier Tuesday, Graham testified at a parliamentary committee dealing with recent cases of Canadians who have been imprisoned in the Middle East.
He assured the Commons committee that Ottawa had done all it could to expedite Arar's return to Canada.
"I think we could have had him here earlier, we could have moved faster: this is true," Graham said.
"But I have to assure you we were moving on it on all points all the time with every conceivable intervention we could possibly use."
The foreign affairs minister, who met with Arar and his wife last Wednesday, said he is sorry for the trial Arar has been subjected to.
"I am very regretful that it took so long (until Arar was released) ... and it's terrible to think of the conditions that Mr. Arar had to suffer while he was there in a prison," Graham said.
For his part, Arar has already begun his effort to have his name cleared officially. On Monday, he asked the New York-based human-rights group, Center for Constitutional Rights, to determine whether any legal claims arise from the circumstances of his arrest, deportation and imprisonment.
Steven Watt, a fellow of the centre, told The Canadian Press that the facts of Arar's treatment and subsequent deportation are "quite extraordinary."
"There appears to have been a complete disregard for the law and for Mr. Arar, and there must be some accounting for his treatment by U.S. government officials," Watt said.