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GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - U.S. authorities apparently were acting on a tip from a 15-year-old captive when they sent a Canadian software engineer to Syria, where he was imprisoned and tortured as a suspected terrorist, according to testimony at the Guantanamo war crimes tribunal on Tuesday.
Canadian captive Omar Khadr identified a drivers license photograph of Canadian software engineer Maher Arar as someone he thought he had seen at an al Qaeda safe house run by a Syrian man in Afghanistan in late September or early October 2001, FBI special agent Robert Fuller testified.
Arar was actually in Canada and the United States during that time, according to a Canadian government inquiry that formally cleared Arar of having terrorist links in 2006.
But Arar, who had been arrested by U.S. authorities during a stopover at JFK airport in New York in September 2002, was deported to Syria one day after Khadr identified his photo, lawyers in the Guantanamo court said.
Fuller's testimony came in a pretrial hearing for Khadr, who is now 22 and charged in the Guantanamo tribunals with murdering a U.S. soldier during a firefight at a suspected al Qaeda compound in Afghanistan in 2002.
Khadr's lawyers contend he was tortured into confessing that he threw the fatal grenade, and want his confessions banned as evidence. A hearing on that request is scheduled to resume on Wednesday.
Fuller told the court he interrogated Khadr five times in Afghanistan in October 2002 in sessions he described as friendly and respectful, and that Khadr freely confessed to throwing the grenade.
The Canadian government concluded in its 2006 report Arar was arrested because the Royal Canadian Mounted Police falsely told U.S. authorities he was a suspected Islamic extremist. They paid Arar a settlement of C$10.5 million ($8.3 million).
Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian citizen, has denied any links to terrorism and his case is widely viewed in Canada as a symbol of overzealousness after the September 11 attacks. There was no indication whether Khadr had ever recanted his claim that he sad seen Arar in Afghanistan.
The United States has not acknowledged any error and Fuller's testimony could explain why the U.S. government put Arar on an airport watch list and deported him to Syria, where he was imprisoned for 10 months and repeatedly tortured. He was released in 2003 and is back in Canada.
Fuller testified on Monday that Khadr was shown a book of photos of suspected terrorists, supplied by government agencies from all over the world. Among them was a drivers license photo of Arar, he said.
"He identified him by name," Fuller said. "He proceeded to tell us then that he had seen Mr. Arar at Abu Musab al-Siri safehouse in Kabul, Afghanistan, on several occasions and that he possibly worked for (the man who ran the house) or was under his direction at the safe house."
Khadr also told the interrogators he might have seen Arar at an al Qaeda training camp near Kabul, Fuller testified.
Questioned on Tuesday by one of Khadr's lawyers, Fuller said Khadr had initially said, "The man looked familiar but he could not identify him by name."
"We gave him an opportunity to think about the photograph and where he may have seen him," Fuller said, adding that Khadr remembered the name a few moments later.
Fuller said he passed on the information to the FBI but had never known what agency was seeking information about Arar or what happened to him.
Khadr's U.S. military defense lawyer, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Bill Kuebler, said Khadr often lied to interrogators or told them what he thought they wanted to hear.
"Omar would have said he saw the pope in Afghanistan," Kuebler said after the hearing.
(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)