U.S. probes deporting of Canadian to Syria

Fri Jun 6, 2008 7:07pm EDT
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By Randall Mikkelsen

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department is investigating whether agency attorneys improperly deported Canadian Maher Arar to his native Syria, where he says he was tortured after he was detained at a U.S. airport due to his erroneous placement on a terrorist watch list.

Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr said on Friday the investigation by its Office of Professional Responsibility began last year, following a report by the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general into the matter.

Arar's case has become a sore spot in U.S.-Canada relations.

Declassified portions of the report were not released until this week. It found that U.S. authorities ignored Arar's fears of torture if he were sent to Syria.

It said immigration and Justice Department officials disregarded normal procedure, which would have been to send Arar back to Canada or to Switzerland, where his flight originated.

In addition, it found, the Immigration and Naturalization Service had concluded that Arar was entitled to protection from torture under international law and that "returning him to Syria would more likely than not result in torture."

Yet it received only ambiguous assurances that he would be protected, and deported him anyway, the report said.

Homeland Security Inspector General Richard Skinner told Congress on Thursday that he was reopening his investigation into the incident and that Justice Department officials and attorneys may have acted illegally.   Continued...

<p>Maher Arar listens to a question during a news conference in Ottawa January 26, 2007. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>