FAA records confirm a Canadian man’s claims that he was a victim of the Bush assministration’s practice of outsourcing torutre.
Maher Arar, a 35-year-old Canadian engineer, is suing the United States, saying American officials grabbed him in 2002 as he changed planes in New York and transported him to Syria where, he says, he was held for 10 months in a dank, tiny cell and brutally beaten with a metal cable.
Now federal aviation records examined by The New York Times appear to corroborate Mr. Arar’s account of his flight, during which, he says, he sat chained on the leather seats of a luxury executive jet as his American guards watched movies and ignored his protests.
The discovery of the aircraft, in a database compiled from Federal Aviation Agency records, appears to corroborate part of the story Mr. Arar has told many times since his release in 2003. The records show that a Gulfstream III jet, tail number N829MG, followed a flight path matching the route he described. The flight, hopscotching from New Jersey to an airport near Washington to Maine to Rome and beyond, took place on Oct. 8, 2002, the day after Mr. Arar’s deportation order was signed.
After seeing a photograph of the plane and hearing its path, Mr. Arar, 35, of Ottawa, said in a telephone interview: “I think that’s it. I think you’ve found the plane that took me.”
He added: “Finding this plane is going really to help me. It does remind me of this trip, which is painful, but it should make people understand that this is for real and everything happened the way I said. I hope people will now stop for a moment and think about the morality of this.”
Records of the jet’s travels also show a trip in December 2003 to Guantnamo Bay, Cuba, where the United States holds hundreds of detainees, suggesting that it was used by the government on at least one other occasion.
“The facts we got from Maher right after he was released are now corroborated by public records,” said [Arar’s attorney Maria] LaHood, who works for the Center for Constitutional Rights, a group in New York that advocates investigation of human rights abuses. “The more information that comes out, the better for showing that this is an important public issue that can’t be kept secret.”
She said Mr. Arar and his attorneys believe that American officials wanted him to undergo a more brutal interrogation than would be permitted in the United States in the hope of getting information about Al Qaeda.
After 10 months in a cell he compared to a grave, and 2 more months in a less confined space, Syrian officials freed Mr. Arar in October 2003, saying they had been unable to find any connection to Al Qaeda. The Syrian ambassador to the United States called the release “a gesture of good will toward Canada.”
Charles Miller, a Justice Department spokesman, said the government had no comment on the case. The administration has refused to cooperate with the Canadian inquiry into Mr. Arar’s case and has asked a judge to dismiss most of his lawsuit, saying that allowing it to proceed would reveal classified information.
Mr. Arar has told a consistent story since his release: He was detained at Kennedy International Airport in New York on Sept. 26, 2002, while changing planes on the way back to Canada from a vacation in Tunisia. He was then held for nearly two weeks, awakened at 3 a.m. and taken to an airport in New Jersey, where he was put aboard a small jet.
Shackled in place, Mr. Arar says, he followed the plane’s movements on a map displayed on a video screen, watching as it traveled to Dulles Airport, outside Washington, to a Maine airport he believed was in Portland, to Rome, and finally to Amman, Jordan, where he was blindfolded and driven to Syria.
According to F.A.A. flight logs for Oct. 8, 2002, only one aircraft flew from New Jersey to the Washington area to Maine to Rome: the 14-passenger Gulfstream III jet, operated by Presidential Aviation, a charter company in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The jet left Teterboro, N.J., for Dulles at 5:40 a.m.; proceeded at 7:46 a.m. to Bangor, Me.; and left Bangor for Rome at 9:36 a.m.