New York Times finds flight logs that back Canadian's claim of kidnapping by US government

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian citizen, is suing the United States, accusing them of kidnapping him and sending him to Syria, where he was detained and tortured for a year. On Wednesday, The New York Times reported that flight logs they have examined appear to support his claims.

They report that records in a database compiled from U.S. Federal Aviation Agency records show that a Gulfstream III jet, tail number N829MG, followed a flight path matching the route he described on October 8. 2002, a day after his deportation order was signed. The flight went from New Jersey to an airport near Washington, then to Maine, Rome, and beyond.

The records also show that the jet made a trip to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where the United States holds hundreds of detainees.

The U.S. Justice Department, in papers filed in a New York court replying to Arar's lawsuit, says the case was not one of rendition, deportation for interrogation abroad, but simply one of deportation. They claim that he was deported to Syria because they had information that he was a member of Al Qaeda. Arar denies this allegation.

Arar was freed from Syrian detainment in October 2003. Syrian officials said they had not been able to find information connecting him to Al Qaeda. The Syrian ambassador to the United States referred to the release as "a gesture of good will toward Canada."

In a telephone interview with The New York Times, after seeing a photograph of the plane and being informed of the path it followed, Arar said "I think that's it. I think you've found the plane that took me."

"The facts we got from Maher right after he was released are now corroborated by public records," Maria LaHood, a lawyer for Arar said. "The more information that comes out, the better for showing that this is an important public issue that can't be kept secret."

A spokesman for the U.S. Justice Department, Charles Miller, said that the government has no comment on the case. The administration has refused to cooperate with the Canadian inquiry into the case and has asked a judge to dismiss his lawsuits on the grounds that classified information would be revealed if they were allowed to continue.

President Bush has said it is not United States policy to engage in torture or send detainees to countries where they are likely to be tortured.