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Agence France Presse

US Officials Reopen Case of Wrongly Detained Terror Suspect


WASHINGTON - US authorities said Thursday they have reopened the case of Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian wrongly detained in 2002 during a stopover in New York and sent to Syria where he was jailed and tortured.0606 01 1

"We have reopened our review into the Mr. Arar matter because, less than a month ago, we received additional information that contradicts one of the conclusions in our report," the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) inspector general, Richard Skinner, said in testimony before a House of Representatives committee.

The Syrian-born software engineer was detained by US authorities in New York in 2002 while in transit from Tunisia to his home in Canada, and then deported to Syria where he was jailed and tortured for almost one year while in Syrian custody.

A Canadian judicial report in September 2006 cleared Arar of terror ties and blasted federal police for wrongly labeling him an "Islamic extremist."

Ottawa apologized to Arar, 37, and offered him 11 million Canadian dollars (10 million US) in damages to settle a lawsuit. A lawsuit filed by Arar against the US government was dismissed last year.

Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate judiciary committee, welcomed Skinner's announcement after "pressing for years for answers" linked to Arar's extradition to Syria.

"It is past time for the administration to give a full explanation of its conduct in this matter, and to follow the example of the Canadian government in taking responsibility for its troubling actions," Leahy said.

Last October, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice acknowledged Arar's case was mishandled.

In March, in a 50-page report that was partially censored, the inspector general concluded that the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) had sufficient reason to expel Arar, and that US authorities had the right to ignore his demands to be sent to Canada instead of Syria.

But in the report Skinner also expressed criticism, saying "the assurances upon which INS based Arar's removal were ambiguous regarding the source or authority purporting to bind the Syrian government to protect Arar."

Last year, US authorities had maintained he was expelled in line with immigration laws and not under the Central Intelligence Agency's controversial practice of "rendition," in which terrorism suspects are transferred abroad.

In his testimony, Skinner said that while it did not appear INS personnel violated the law in expelling Arar, "that should not be construed to mean that we have completely discounted that possibility, especially since we did not have the opportunity to interview all the individuals involved in the matter."

DHS offered two recommendations, including allowing foreign nationals subject to expulsion a specified minimum amount of time to respond to the charges against them.

The other recommendation was classified.

© 2008 Agence France Presse

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