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December 7, 2003 

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Deporting for torture?

The US government appears to have breached its own policies as well as international law in deporting Maher Arar. Article 3 of the Convention against Torture prohibits the transfer of anyone to another state where there are "substantial grounds" for believing that person would risk being tortured.

Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen was deported last year from the USA to Syria where he was allegedly tortured and held for months in cruel, inhuman and degrading conditions.

Maher Arar was detained at John F. Kennedy (JFK) airport, New York, on 26 September 2002 while in transit to Canada and travelling on a Canadian passport. He was held in US custody for 13 days during which time he was reportedly questioned about alleged links with al-Qa'ida. He effectively "disappeared" from US custody and it later transpired that he was deported to Syria, without being represented at any hearing and without his family, lawyer or the Canadian consulate being informed.

Mr. Arar was recently released after being detained in Syria for a year without charge. Maher Arar returned to Canada last month (October 2003) where he has given detailed testimony to Amnesty International. Maher Arar said he was woken up by US officials in the early hours of 8 October and told that he was being deported to Syria. His protests that he would be tortured were ignored. While on the plane, he overheard members of the team accompanying him say that Syria did not want to take him directly, but that Jordan had agreed to take him.

After a brief stop-over in Jordan, where he says he was shackled and beaten, he was driven to Syria and taken to the "Far Falestin", the Palestine Branch of Syrian military intelligence, known for the routine torture of political prisoners. While there he says, he was severely beaten with electrical cable during six days of interrogation, and threatened with electric shocks and the "metal chair" - a torture device that stretches the spine. Eventually, he says, he broke down and signed a document falsely confessing to having been in Afghanistan.

He reports he was held alone in a tiny, basement cell without light, which he

Called "the grave" for more than 10 months. A small grate in the ceiling opened up into a hallway above, through which cats and rats urinated into his cell. There was no furniture in the cell, only two blankets on the floor. He had no exposure to natural light at all for the first six months. "The USA appears to have been in gross violation of its obligations under international law in deporting him to Syria, whether directly or indirectly" Amnesty International said. The organisation added that he was also denied basic rights while in US custody, including being held incommunicado for the first seven days and denied prompt access to the Canadian consulate.

Source: Amnesty International.

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