OTTAWA — Maher Arar was teaching English to his fellow inmates in a Syrian prison in September 2003 when a new prisoner caused a commotion at his cell door. The two haggard men stared at each other for long seconds, Arar recalled in an interview here this week. Then they realized: They were both Canadian. Arar, 34, a computer engineer who was born in Lebanon, says he was spirited by U.S. authorities to Syria in 2002 and underwent repeated torture while held there for nearly a year. Now, a judicial commission here is seeking to determine how he and three other Arab Canadian citizens wound up being interrogated in the same Syrian prison after coming to the attention of Canadian or U.S. authorities.
Although much of the inquiry has been conducted behind closed doors, a recent series of public hearings has embarrassed the Canadian government by exposing details of Arar’s “extraordinary rendition” — the phrase used by the CIA to describe the U.S. practice of secretly sending terror suspects to countries where torture is routine. The hearings have also revealed a greater Canadian role in the practice than previously acknowledged. The case has added to the growing discomfort of U.S. allies over such tactics in the war on terrorism. Critics in Sweden and Italy as well as Canada have called their governments to task for cooperating in U.S. renditions, which they say violate human rights. (MORE)