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Gonzales defends Arar deportation after Canadian inquiry report

[JURIST] US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales Tuesday defended US conduct in handling the Maher Arar [advocacy website; CBC timeline] case, saying that while the US did in fact deport the Canadian citizen, the US was "not responsible for his removal to Syria," and that if US officials had rendered Arar to Syria, they only would have done so if they received assurances that Arar would not be tortured. Arar was detained in 2002 during a layover at New York's JFK airport on a flight home to Canada from Tunisia; he was detained by US immigration officials and then, after a brief stopover in Jordan, sent to Syria, where he was born. Arar alleged he was deported so that he could be tortured in Syria, where he eventually made false admissions of terrorist activity. He was released from Syrian custody in 2003. A Canadian official judicial inquiry, the Arar Commission [official website], established to trace events leading to Arar's deportation to Syria, released [JURIST report] its findings [commission materials] Monday. The commission concluded that the US may have acted upon information provided by the RCMP, Canada's federal police force, that was inaccurate and unfair and that overstated Arar's importance to an ongoing terrorism investigation. When asked about the report during a press conference [transcript], Gonzales said:

Well, we were not responsible for his removal to Syria, I'm not aware that he was tortured, and I haven't read the Commission report. Mr. Arar was deported under our immigration laws. He was initially detained because his name appeared on terrorist lists, and he was deported according to our laws.

Some people have characterized his removal as a rendition. That is not what happened here. It was a deportation. And even if it were a rendition, we understand as a government what our obligations are with respect to anyone who is rendered by this government to another country, and that is that we seek to satisfy ourselves that they will not be tortured. And we do that in every case. And if in fact he had been rendered to Syria, we would have sought those same kind of assurances, as we do in every case.
Canadian officials on Tuesday announced their agreement with all 23 of the report recommendations, including one calling for Canada 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."

In 2004 Arar filed a lawsuit [CCR materials] in US federal court challenging US extraordinary rendition [JURIST news archive] practices under the Torture Victim Protection Act [text]. Arar's lawyers argued the Act provides the US court with jurisdiction over cases involving civil rights abuses committed abroad, including Arar's case, but US District Judge David G. Trager dismissed the case [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] in February of this year, citing "the national security and foreign policy considerations at stake" and holding that Arar, as a non-citizen, could not raise a constitutional right to due process. Arar is appealing that decision. Reuters has more.

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