The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Canadian Panel Exonerates CIA Rendition Survivor

by Michelle Chen

Sept. 20, 2006 – Four years after being apprehended by the US government as a terrorism suspect and tortured by authorities in Syria, Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen, has had his name officially cleared by a Canadian Commission of Inquiry.

Bringing some closure to a case that has encapsulated the human-rights questions surrounding the so-called "war on terror," the Commission Monday released an 800-page, three-volume analysis of one individual’s journey through the United States’s "extraordinary rendition" program. Since the September 11 attacks, the secretive government program has swept an untold number of individuals into CIA custody and then to foreign countries for interrogation, according to media investigations and official statements.

The Canadian panel – a government-chartered, non-judicial fact-finding body comprised of legal experts, concluded after a two-and-a-half-year investigation the allegations brought against him generally to be distorted or baseless. Commissioner Dennis O’Connor, associate chief justice of Ontario, declared in a statement announcing the release of the report, "I am able to say categorically that there is no evidence to indicate that Mr. Arar has committed any offense or that his activities constitute a threat to the security of Canada."

As previously reported by The NewStandard, Arar, a Syrian-born computer consultant and father of two, was initially detained by US authorities in New York City in September, 2002. He then endured ten months of torture and abuse at the hands of Syrian captors, imprisoned under deplorable conditions and forced to make false confessions. Arar returned to Canada in 2003 and has never been charged by any government.

The fact-finding panel concluded after a two-and-a-half year investigation the allegations brought against him generally to be distorted or baseless.

The Commission, primarily charged with shedding light on the role of the Canadian government and not the US role, found that Canadian officials and police had provided intelligence to US authorities on Arar, much of it flawed or biased. However, the panel found no direct link between Canadian authorities and the decision to remove Arar to Syria.

The Commission also noted that even after his return, Arar faced attempts to publicly criminalize him. The Panel found that "Canadian officials leaked confidential and sometimes inaccurate information about the case to the media for the purpose of damaging Mr. Arar’s reputation or protecting their self-interest or government interests."

The Commission’s recommendations, which are part of the public inquiry though not binding, urged the Canadian government to evaluate Arar’s demands for compensation for his suffering "in light of the report’s finding."

Arar, now 36, is also seeking damages from the US government, in a lawsuit that charges high-level US intelligence and security officials with violating his rights. In February of this year, a US District Court dismissed the case, citing concerns about exposing "state secrets." Arar is currently appealing that ruling.

"I have waited a long time to have my name cleared," Arar said in a statement responding to the Commission’s report. "I was tortured and lost a year of my life. I will never be the same."

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Michelle Chen is a staff journalist.

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