US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice acknowledged on Wednesday that the US "mishandled" the case of a Canadian engineer seized by US officials and taken to Syria, where he and the Canadian government say he was tortured.
Rice, speaking at a US congressional hearing, said the US has told Canada "that we will try to do better in the future."
"We do not think that this case was handled as it should have been. We do absolutely not wish to transfer anyone to any place in which they might be tortured," she said.
When asked whether the US relied on diplomatic assurances from Syria that the engineer, Maher Arar, would not be tortured, Rice said she would respond later because her memory of certain details "has faded a bit."
Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian citizen, was detained by US immigration agents on Sept. 26, 2002, as he stopped in New York en route home from a vacation. Days later, he was sent by private jet to Syria where, according to Canadian officials, he was tortured.
After nearly a year in a Syrian prison, he was released without charges and returned to Canada.
The Canadian government has apologized to Arar and agreed to pay him almost US$10 million in compensation.
The Bush administration has not apologized. Arar's name remains on watch lists that forbid his entry into the US.
"We are encouraged by the comments issued by the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, regarding the Arar case," Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in parliament. "We have raised this issue on many occasions with the Americans and we hope that the US government will act to fully address this matter."
Arar said in a statement that he is "pleased that the US administration has taken the encouraging step of acknowledging that my case was mishandled."
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