Report: US records back torture claim

The New York Times says US aviation records appear to corroborate the story of a Canadian man who says officials grabbed him as he changed planes in New York and sent him to Syria, where he says he was imprisoned for a year and tortured.

    Mahir Arar says he was held by Syrian authorities and tortured

    Mahir Arar, a 35-year-old Syrian-born Canadian citizen, said he was detained at John F Kennedy International Airport, where he made a stop on his way home to Canada after a vacation in Tunisia in 2002.

    He was jailed for about two weeks, then put on a small jet in New Jersey to be flown out, he said.

    The newspaper said the records it examined show that a Gulfstream III jet, tail number N829MG, followed a flight path matching the route Arar described.

    The flight, hopping from New Jersey to an airport near Washington to Maine to Rome and beyond, took place on 8 October 2002, the day after Arar's deportation order was signed.

    Driven to Syria

    Shackled in place, Arar says, he followed the plane's movements on a map displayed on a video screen, watching as it travelled to Dulles Airport, outside Washington, to a Maine airport he thought was in Portland, to Rome, and finally to Amman, Jordan, where he was blindfolded and driven to Syria, the New York Times said.

    The Gulfstream jet also made a
    trip to Guantanamo Bay in 2003

    The only conflict the newspaper found in the records was that the Maine airport was Bangor, not Portland.

    The logs only give details on flights departing from the US, so the trip was only documented as far as Rome.

    Records of that same jet's travels also show a trip in December 2003 to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the US holds hundreds of detainees, suggesting that it was used by the government on at least one other occasion, the newspaper said.

    The charter company that operates the jet, Presidential Aviation of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, wouldn't divulge to the newspaper who rented the plane that day.

    Other cases

    "It's a very select group of people that we fly, from entertainers to foreign heads of state, a whole gamut of customers that we fly and wouldn't discuss one over the other," Nigel England, the company's director of operations, said.

    "It's a very select group of people that we fly, from entertainers to foreign heads of state, a whole gamut of customers that we fly and wouldn't discuss one over the other"

    Nigel England,
    Director of Operations,
    Presidential Aviation

    Other US newspapers, including The Washington Post and The Chicago Tribune, have reported on three other planes thought to have been used for transporting suspected terrorists.

    In court filings responding to Arar's lawsuit in New York, US Justice Department lawyers said Arar was deported to Syria based on secret information that he was a member of al-Qaida, an accusation he denies, The New York Times reported.

    However, the lawyers said it was not a case of rendition, in which suspects are sent abroad for interrogation.

    Secret transfer

    Arar, the subject of a year-long inquiry by the Canadian government, is among a number of cases since the 11 September 2001, attacks in which suspects have accused the US of secretly delivering them to other countries for interrogation under torture, The New York Times reported.

    The Syrian-born Canadian was
    accused of having al-Qaida ties

    After 10 months in a cell that Arar compared to a grave, and two more months in a less confined space, Syrian officials freed him in October 2003, saying they had been unable to find any al-Qaida connection, the newspaper said.

    The Syrian ambassador to the US called the release "a gesture of goodwill towards Canada".

    Charles Miller, a Justice Department spokesman, said the government had no comment on the case. The administration has refused to cooperate with the Canadian inquiry and has asked a judge to dismiss most of Arar's lawsuit, saying that it would reveal classified information.

    President George Bush has said it is US policy to neither torture suspects nor deliver them to countries where they are likely to be tortured. 

    SOURCE: Agencies


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