DHS To Reopen Inquiry Into Suspect’s Expulsion To Syria

DHS to Reopen Inquiry Into Suspect's Expulsion to Syria

By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 6, 2008; Page A10

The Department of Homeland Security inspector general's office has reopened its investigation of the government's treatment of Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian who, after being falsely named as a terrorist, was seized in September 2002 and sent to Syria, where he was tortured.

DHS Inspector General Richard G. Skinner told a congressional hearing that he could not rule out the possibility that immigration officials violated a law that prohibits the American government from sending anyone to a country where he or she is likely to be tortured, especially since investigators were not allowed to question all participants.

Without elaborating, Skinner also said his office is conducting new interviews because it recently received information that contradicted one of its conclusions.

Skinner's testimony and a heavily redacted 50-page report found that U.S. immigration officials appropriately determined that Arar could be expelled. But he said immigration authorities concluded that sending Arar to Syria “would more likely than not result in his torture” and relied on “ambiguous” assurances from Syria that he would not be.

The order not to return Arar home to Canada, despite his citizenship there, was signed by then-Deputy Attorney General Larry D. Thompson after deliberations by then-Immigration and Naturalization Services chief James W. Ziglar. It came after U.S. authorities were told by Canadian counterparts that they would be unable to detain Arar.

Skinner also questioned U.S. officials' minimal efforts to notify attorneys for Arar before a late-night hearing where he could argue his fear of torture, and he recommended that immigration authorities allow more time to respond to charges.

Lawmakers on the House Judiciary and Foreign Affairs committees criticized the Bush administration for taking four years to disclose details of the case to Congress and for trying to keep those details secret from the public.

Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.) called on lawmakers to ask the Justice Department to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate whether U.S. laws were violated.

Arar was stopped on a layover in New York en route home from a vacation. Syria released him after nearly a year's imprisonment.

The Canadian government has apologized to Arar and agreed to pay him $9 million in compensation after finding that its agents wrongly labeled him an Islamic fundamentalist and passed that information to the United States.