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State Department official defends US rendition practices before House committee

[JURIST] A US State Department official Tuesday defended the transfer of suspects to foreign countries based on diplomatic assurances that they will not face torture there. Speaking before the House Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights, and Oversight [official website], Legal Advisor John Bellinger testified [text] that, under the Convention against Torture [Article 3 text] and US policy, suspects will not be transfered if it is "more likely than not" that they will be tortured. The House subcommittee raised concerns [hearing opening statement, PDF] about the use of diplomatic assurances after Department of Homeland Security investigators reopened an investigation [congressional testimony, PDF; JURIST report] last week into the case of Canadian Syrian-born engineer Maher Arar [advocacy website; JURIST news archive]. Bellinger denied that Arar was a victim of extraordinary rendition [JURIST news archive], instead characterizing his transfer to Syria as an immigration matter. The Toronto Star has more. VOA has additional coverage.

Arar was detained in the US in 2002 on suspicion of being affiliated with al Qaeda after flying to New York from Tunisia on his way home to Canada. He was later deported to Syria, where he was tortured. In October 2007, US lawmakers apologized [JURIST report] to Arar during a joint hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee [official website]. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice testified [recorded video] in front of the same committee that Arar's rendition was not "handled as it should have been," but stopped short of apologizing. Rice added that the US government has told the Canadian government that it will "try to do better in the future." In January 2007, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized to Arar [JURIST report] on behalf of the Canadian government and announced a settlement of $10.5 million (CAD) compensation for pain and suffering.

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