Desmond Butler / Associated Press – 2008-06-06 09:08:32
WASHINGTON (June 6, 2008) — A leading Homeland Security Department investigator said Thursday that his office is re-examining the conclusions of an inquiry that exonerated the U.S. government in the case of a Canadian engineer who was seized by American officials, sent to Syria and allegedly tortured.
The department’s chief of internal investigations, Richard Skinner, said at a congressional hearing that his office could not rule out that the United States wanted to send Maher Arar to Syria because it believed he would be tortured. He said the Justice Department has been informed of that possibility and is investigating.
Skinner said his office has new information that contradicts an earlier conclusion of its own investigation of the Arar case.
Skinner was releasing an unclassified version of the report, with some parts blacked out, after testifying at a hearing Thursday on the Arar investigation. The hearing was held by two subcommittees of the House Judiciary and Foreign Affairs committees.
Arar’s case involves one of the most publicly scrutinized incidents of what is called extraordinary rendition, a practice in which the U.S. government sends foreign terrorism suspects to third countries for interrogation.
Lawmakers at the hearing criticized the Bush administration for taking so long to release details on Arar’s case and for keeping much of the report classified.
Rep. Bill Delahunt, D-Mass., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on international organizations, human rights and oversight, called on the two committees to ask the Justice Department to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate whether the administration broke U.S. laws on torture.
Skinner’s investigation, which was requested by the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., found that U.S. immigration officials acted appropriately in determining that Arar could be expelled from the United States.
Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian citizen, was detained by U.S. immigration agents on Sept. 26, 2002, as he stopped over in New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport on a flight from Switzerland en route home from a vacation. Days later, he was sent by private jet to Syria, where, according to Canadian officials, he was tortured.
After nearly a year in a Syrian prison, Arar was released without charges and returned to Canada.
U.S. immigration officials determined that Arar could be legally deported to Canada, Syria or Switzerland.
Skinner said Switzerland was ruled out for reasons that are classified.
In written testimony, Skinner said Arar requested to be returned to Canada, but he said the Justice Department determined that doing so would be “prejudicial to the interest of the United States.”
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