Fri, Nov 21, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Ashcroft defends deportation of Canadian

REUTERS , WASHINGTON

US Attorney General John Ashcroft assured a Canadian Cabinet minister on Wednesday that no laws were broken in the case of a Syrian-born Canadian who was handed over to Syria, where he says he was tortured.

Solicitor General Wayne Easter told reporters he discussed the case of Maher Arar, which has triggered criticism of the US actions by top Canadian officials, during a lunch meeting at the Canadian Embassy.

The 33-year-old computer technician was arrested by US agents in September last year while changing planes in New York on his way to Canada from Tunisia. He says he was held for 13 days by US agents, and then taken to Syria via Jordan.

Arar, who has returned to Canada after Syria released him following a year in captivity, says he was regularly tortured during his time in a Damascus jail.

US officials say they suspected Arar belonged to the al-Qaeda organization of Osama bin Laden. US Justice Department officials said he was on a government watchlist for being "a member of a known terrorist organization."

They noted Syria has denied that Arar was tortured, and said the US had received assurances from Syria before he was sent there that he would not be tortured.

A top US Justice Department official at the time, Larry Thompson, personally approved sending Arar to Syria, a law enforcement official said.

Mark Corallo, a spokesman for Ashcroft, said, "We know we acted well within our laws and applicable international treaties and conventions."

Easter also said that Ashcroft assured him the decision had been made under US law and no laws were broken. Ashcroft "feels that they were operating under their mandate, in the interest of their laws and their national security," he said.

Last week, US lawyers for Arar called for an investigation by Ashcroft and congressional intelligence committees. Arar says he was deported to Syria even though he told US agents he would be tortured there.

Easter said he did not want to talk about the specifics of the case, which is under review by a commission in Canada.

"We want to get to the bottom of it," he said.

Easter emphasized the need to balance national security interests with making sure the rights of individual Canadian citizens are protected.

Arar's lawyers have asked whether US authorities acted on information provided by Canadian security services.

"The information didn't just come from Canada alone. The information comes from a number of agencies globally, and that's the bottom line," Easter said.

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