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US refuses to help free Canadian citizen they wrongfull

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U.S. won't help free Canadian in Syria

Rights group fears Maher Arar faces torture, show trial

Robert Fife

The Ottawa Citizen

The United States refused yesterday to use its influence to free a Canadian imprisoned in Syria even though it deported him without advising Canada.

A human rights delegation, led by former foreign affairs minister Flora Macdonald, told senior U.S. embassy officials they had an moral obligation to help release Ottawa engineer Maher Arar.

The Americans should make amends since they are responsible for his imprisonment and possible torture based on unsubstantiated allegations that he belonged to a terrorist group linked to al-Qaeda, the group told Brian Flora, head of the U.S. embassy's political affairs branch. The delegation also demanded an explanation why Mr. Arar was arrested in New York City last September and deported to Damascus even though he was carrying a Canadian passport and had not been to Syria in 16 years.

But Alex Neve, secretary-general of Amnesty International, said Mr. Flora and other U.S. officials were unapologetic and unco-operative.

"We were told essentially that the U.S. view is that it is a diplomatic matter between Syria and Canada," he said. "We were also told that Syria would not be interested in what the United States had to say and it would be much more effective for Canada to make its representations."

Mr. Neve said embassy officials said they've never been told why Mr. Arar was arrested, but insisted Canada played no role in the U.S. decision to detain and deport him, although U.S. authorities did get information about Mr. Arar from Canadian law enforcement agencies.

"Having claimed full responsibility therefore for their decisions, it is all the more disappointing that there was no willingness to acknowledge any U.S. responsibility for the consequences that have flowed from that decision," Mr. Neve added. A U.S. Embassy official would not discuss the meeting, which lasted one hour.

However, Ms. Macdonald, now with the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, said she reminded the Americans how Canada helped hide and spirit six U.S. diplomats out of Iran in 1979 when she was foreign affairs minister and told them they owed Canada.

Ms. Macdonald also criticized Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham for not forcefully pushing Washington to push Syria to free Mr. Arar.

"There has not been enough done to say this is a Canadian citizen who has not had the opportunity to ... be charged and brought before a reasonable international court," she said.

Mr. Arar's wife, Monia Mazigh, who was not allowed into the U.S. Embassy, also expressed disappointment and called for a public inquiry into the possible role the RCMP played in passing information about her husband that led the U.S. to deport him to a CIA debriefing camp in Jordan and then to Syria. "We need a public inquiry here in Canada to know who played the role in the deportation of my husband." She also expressed concern that her husband, who she said has been tortured in the same manner as William Sampson was in Saudi Arabia, could face a mock trial before Syria's notorious Supreme State Security Court.

Riad Saloojee, the Canadian director of the Council of American Islamic Relations, said he fears the worst for Mr. Arar, blaming the federal government for failing to take strong action against Syria.

"The tragedy of this is that Canadian inaction in the beginning might see a very fatal conclusion," he said. "I think the time for a very strong committed Canadian approach has passed and maybe this will be one of the last lessons of Maher Arar."

The government was passively dealing with the Arar case until July when Prime Minister Jean Chrétien sent a personal emissary to Damascus, urging the Syrians to free him or give him a fair trial.

In April, U.S. Ambassador Paul Cellucci said the Canadian government approved of the U.S. handling of Mr. Arar and "wouldn't be happy" to see him come back to Canada.

The London-based Syrian Human Rights Committee issued a report in August, claiming Mr. Arar has been "subject to severe torture and intensive interrogation" by Syrian secret police including electric shocks and beatings with sticks.

Robert Fife is Parliamentary Bureau Chief

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