Arar one of Time's 'heroes'

Former terror suspect not allowed to enter U.S. to attend magazine gala

Andrew Duffy, The Ottawa Citizen

Published: Friday, May 04, 2007

Maher Arar, who fought for three years to unearth the truth behind his deportation and torture, has been named one of the most influential people on the planet by Time magazine.

Ironically, however, Mr. Arar will not be able to attend next week's gala ceremony in New York to honour the 100 people selected by Time because he's prohibited from travelling to the United States.

The former Ottawa computer engineer remains on a U.S. terror watch list prepared by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The administration of U.S. President George Bush has refused to remove him from the list despite repeated appeals from the Canadian government, which has apologized to Mr. Arar and paid him $10.5 million in compensation after a judicial inquiry cleared him of any connection to terrorism.

"It's shameful, really," said lawyer Maria LaHood, of the the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has filed suit against the U.S. government on Mr. Arar's behalf.

"He has been named a hero by Time magazine, but at the same time, we have the U.S. government continuing to smear his name, which prevents him from receiving this honour."

Earlier this year, Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day was briefed on the secret U.S. dossier; he said it contained no evidence to alter the government's opinion on Mr. Arar's innocence.

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has said the continued listing of Mr. Arar is appropriate based on information developed by U.S. law enforcement agencies.

Mr. Arar was named to the prestigious Time list in the "heroes and pioneers" category along with fellow Canadian Michael J. Fox and an eclectic collection of others, including Oprah Winfrey, Elizabeth Edwards, George Clooney, Warren Buffett and Wesley Autrey, a New Yorker who leapt onto a subway track to save a man who had collapsed with a seizure.

Vermont Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote the magazine's entry on Mr. Arar.

"Maher Arar's case stands as a sad example of how we have been too willing to sacrifice our core principles to overarching government power in the name of security," Mr. Leahy wrote, "when doing so only undermines the principles we stand for -- and makes us less safe."

The Bush administration has refused to acknowledge responsibility in the case, Mr. Leahy said, other than to offer a "tepid explanation" that it had assurances from Syrian officials that Mr. Arar would not be tortured. "These are the same Syrian officials with whom our government now says it will not negotiate because they are not trustworthy," he added.

In a prepared statement, Mr. Arar, who is studying for his PhD at the University of Ottawa, said he was very honoured to be included in the Time 100 list and thanked all of those who have helped him throughout his "struggle for justice."

Mr. Arar now lives in B.C., but is planning to move back to Ottawa with his family this summer.

He is the first victim of the Bush administration's practice of extraordinary rendition to contest his treatment in a U.S. court, according to the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights.

His civil suit against the U.S. government was dismissed last year on national security grounds, but that ruling is being appealed.

A Syrian-born Canadian citizen, Mr. Arar said he wants to know why the U.S. decided to send him to Syria instead of returning him to Canada.

"This crucial question has yet to be answered," he said.

Mr. Arar was detained by U.S. authorities at New York's JFK Airport in September 2002, as he was coming home from a vacation. U.S. officials later sent him to Syria, where he was imprisoned and tortured for 10 months.

A judicial inquiry, led by Justice Dennis O'Connor, found no evidence Mr. Arar was a security threat; he concluded the RCMP gave false information to U.S. authorities that portrayed Mr. Arar as an Islamic extremist -- information that likely led to his extraordinary rendition.