Tortured Canadian Still on U.S. 'Watch List'

By Doug Struck
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, December 16, 2006

TORONTO, Dec. 15 -- Maher Arar, the Canadian Muslim who was whisked by U.S. agents from a New York airport to imprisonment and torture in Syria, remains on the U.S. "watch list" despite an exhaustive Canadian inquiry that found he is an innocent man, the U.S. ambassador to Canada said Friday.

Ambassador David Wilkins said in an interview with CBC Radio that Arar "is on the watch list and has been since he was deported" in 2002 to Syria, where he was held for 10 months, much of it in a coffin-like dungeon.

His transfer to Syria, part of a series of U.S. clandestine "extraordinary renditions" of terrorism suspects for interrogation in foreign countries, created a scandal in Canada.

The head of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police resigned last week after a two-year judicial inquiry found his officers gave U.S. agents false information to cast suspicion on Arar.

The Canadian Parliament has apologized to Arar, now 36, and the Canadian government is preparing compensation for the engineer.

But the United States has never acknowledged any mistake in the matter, and Wilkins's disclosure Friday indicates Arar might again be detained by the United States if he were to enter the country.

His removal to Syria "was based on information from a variety of sources, as is his current watch list status," Wilkins said in a statement he issued later Friday. U.S. officials have made "our own independent assessment of the threat to the United States," he said.

"That the United States would have the gall to keep Maher on a watch list, implying that he poses a threat to this country, is outrageous," said one of Arar's attorneys, Maria LaHood, a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York. The nonprofit group filed a suit on Arar's behalf against the U.S. government, but it was dismissed.

"This administration is unwilling to admit its mistakes and still tries to conceal them," she said.

In Ottawa, New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton said the Canadian government should demand that the United States remove Arar's name from the list. "Otherwise, it sends a message the Canadian government will not stand behind its own citizens," he told reporters.


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