U.S. rejects outside probe of Canadian sent to Syria

Thu Jul 24, 2008 5:52am EDT
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By James Vicini

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey said on Wednesday he had rejected a request from lawmakers that an outside special counsel investigate the case of a Canadian taken off a plane in New York and sent to Syria, where he says he was tortured.

Mukasey said under questioning at a House of Representatives Judiciary Committee hearing that he did not believe that a special counsel was warranted "at this time."

Maher Arar, a Syrian-born software engineer, was taken into custody by U.S. officials during a 2002 stopover in New York while on his way home to Canada and then deported to Syria because of suspected links to al Qaeda.

Arar says he was imprisoned in Syria for a year and tortured. His case has become a sore spot in U.S.-Canada relations.

Three committee Democrats sent a letter on July 10 asking Mukasey to appoint an outside special counsel to investigate and prosecute any violations of federal criminal laws.

They said a special counsel would ensure the investigation is thorough, impartial and independent, and would show the U.S. government was willing to conduct a fair investigation into serious allegations of wrongdoing.

Two lawmakers who sought the outside investigation, including committee chairman Rep. John Conyers, a Democrat from Michigan, criticized Mukasey's decision.

Conyers said Mukasey had continued the "unfortunate tradition" of refusing to appoint a special counsel not only in the Arar case, but also for President George W. Bush's warrantless surveillance program and for the CIA's use of waterboarding for terrorism suspects.   Continued...

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