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Context of 'September 27-October 6, 2002: Canadian Detainee Repeatedly Questioned in New York'

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On the second day of his detention, Maher Arar, a Canadian, is questioned for eight hours. At the end of his interrogation, a US immigration agent enters the room and asks Arar if he would like to go to Syria. “No way,” Arar recalls saying. “I wanted to go home. He said you are a special interest. They asked me to sign a form. They would not let me read it, but I just signed it. I was exhausted and confused.” [Washington Post, 11/12/2003] He has not slept since coming off an airplane 27 hours ago. He is then taken to the New York Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC), where he is strip-searched. A doctor gives him injection, which he is told is a vaccination. But the doctor refuses to explain what the injected fluid is. “My arm was red for almost two weeks from that,” Arar will later remember. For the first few days, Arar is interrogated several times and he is granted neither a hearing nor provided the opportunity to contact family, friends, or a lawyer. He is shown a document that says he is accused of being a member of al-Qaeda. On October 2, six days after his arrest, Arar is allowed to make a two-minute phone call. He contacts his mother-in-law and asks her to get him a lawyer. The next day or the day after, he fills out a form saying he prefers to be sent to Canada, not Syria. On October 4, he receives a visit from Canadian consul Maureen Girvan, whom he tells of his fear of being deported to Syria. That won’t happen, she assures him. A lawyer finally visits Arar on October 5, who tells him not to sign anything without her being present. [Maher Arar, 1/15/2005] The following night of October 6, guards take Arar out of his cell, saying his lawyer is waiting to see him. He is led into a room with seven or eight people, but his lawyer is not present. He is then informed that “he”—the lawyer—has refused to come. His lawyer, however, is female. The theme of the subsequent questioning is Syria and why he does not want to go there. “I told them,” Arar recalls, “I would be tortured there. I told them I had not done my military service; I am a Sunni Muslim; my mother’s cousin had been accused of being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and was put in prison for nine years.” He is again asked to sign a document and he refuses. At 3 a.m. he is returned to his cell. [Maher Arar, 1/15/2005]

Entity Tags: Maher Arar

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, in his capacity as acting attorney general, signs an order to transfer Maher Arar from the US to Syria, stating, according to officials speaking on condition of anonymity, that sending him to Canada would be “prejudicial to the interests of the United States.” Arar has dual Canadian and Syrian citizenship and has expressed his fear of being tortured once extradited to Syria. One year later, Imad Moustafa, Syria’s charge d’affaires in Washington says Syria had no reason to detain Arar, but that his country has agreed to take him as a favor to the US and to win its goodwill. He also says US intelligence officials have told their Syrian counterparts that Arar is a member of al-Qaeda. [Washington Post, 11/19/2003]

Entity Tags: Larry D. Thompson, Maher Arar, Imad Moustafa

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

The day following Maher Arar’s handover by the CIA to Jordanian authorities (see October 8, 2002), the overland journey to Syria resumes in various cars and again Arar is beaten. In the evening, Arar arrives at the so-called “Palestinian branch” of Syrian military intelligence. Interrogation begins. “I was very, very scared,” Arar will later recall. There is a metal chair in the corner, and each time Arar does not answer quickly enough, a Syrian colonel points at the chair and asks, “Do you want me to use this?” Arar later learns it is used for torture. Four hours later, he is taken to a cell in the basement. “It was like a grave,” Arar says. “It had no light. It was three feet wide. It was six feet deep. It was seven feet high.… There was a small opening in the ceiling, about one foot by two feet with iron bars. Over that was another ceiling, so only a little light came through this. There were cats and rats up there, and from time to time the cats peed through the opening into the cell. There were two blankets, two dishes, and two bottles. One bottle was for water and the other one was used for urinating during the night. Nothing else. No light. I spent ten months and ten days inside that grave.” [CBC News, 11/26/2004]

Entity Tags: Maher Arar

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

In the Syrian “Palestine Branch” prison, Maher Arar is instructed by an interrogator to write a statement admitting that he went to a training camp in Afghanistan and sign it. He does so only after being kicked. After more than 10 months in solitary confinement (see October 9, 2002), Arar is let out of his grave-like cell. He is then transferred, first to the “Investigation Branch,” and then to Sednaya prison. “I was very lucky,” he says, “that I was not tortured when I arrived there. All the other prisoners were tortured when they arrived.” [CBC News, 11/26/2004]

Entity Tags: Maher Arar

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Maher Arar is taken back to the Palestine Branch prison in Damascus. This time, however, he is not put in a grave-like cell. Instead, he is sent to a waiting room located adjacent to a torture room. “I could hear the prisoners being tortured, and screaming, again,” he later recalls. He is kept there for a week. [CBC News, 11/26/2004]

Entity Tags: Maher Arar

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Maher Arar is brought to court and told that he will be released if he signs a document, the contents of which he is not permitted to see. After signing, he is returned to the Palestinian Branch where he meets with officials from the Canadian embassy and the head of the Syrian military intelligence. He is then finally released. The next day, Arar arrives in Montreal. Canadian Foreign Minister Bill Graham credits “quiet Canadian diplomacy” for his release. [CBC News, 11/26/2004]

Entity Tags: Bill Graham, Maher Arar

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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