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Canadian leader voices regret on torture

Citizen was sent from US to Syria after mistaken ID

OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Stephen Harper said yesterday that a Canadian citizen who was deported to Syria, where he was subsequently tortured, had been ``done a tremendous injustice."

The government said it agreed with the 23 recommendations by Justice Dennis O'Connor, who headed a Canadian judicial inquiry concluding that Maher Arar was tortured in Syria, the country of his birth, after being arrested in New York in 2002 on suspicion of involvement with Al Qaeda.

The report, released Monday, said Canadian intelligence officials passed false warnings and bad information to US agents about Arar, after which US authorities secretly whisked him to Syria.

``The government has received this report that has a series of recommendations," Harper told the House of Commons. ``The government will act swiftly based on those recommendations."

Most of the recommendations focus on errors made by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which wrongly told US authorities that Arar, a computer software engineer, was an Islamic extremist.

Another recommendation was to ``register a formal objection with the governments of the United States and Syria concerning their treatment of Mr. Arar and Canadian officials involved with his case."

The report also advocated compensating Arar.

``We think those are good and sound recommendations," the public security minister, Stockwell Day, said of the entire package.

``We don't see a problem with any of those recommendations. We think it's good advice from Justice O'Connor, and we intend to act on those," he said.

O'Connor concluded that the American authorities who handled Arar's case had treated him in ``a most regrettable fashion."

``They removed him to Syria against his wishes and in the face of his statements that he would be tortured if sent there," he said.

He also said US officials were not candid with either the Mounties or Canadian diplomats about their intentions or about the process that led to Arar's removal after his arrest at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York.

Arar, 36, says he was repeatedly tortured in the year he spent in Damascus jails. He was freed in 2003.

US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, asked to comment about the report, said: ``Mr. Arar was deported under our immigration laws. He was initially detained because his name appeared on terrorist lists; he was deported according to our laws."

He said the United States always seeks to assure itself that anybody it sends out will not be tortured.

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