Evidence Prompts Extension of Arar Terror Probe, Official Says

By Jeff Bliss

June 5 (Bloomberg) -- The Department of Homeland Security's top investigator, citing new evidence, is extending his probe into the Bush administration's handling of a Canadian who said he was tortured after U.S. officials turned him over to his native Syria in 2002.

Richard Skinner, DHS's inspector general, said the evidence, which is classified, would be examined over the next 90 days.

``The information is such that it does merit a close look,'' Skinner said during a break in a joint hearing of House judiciary and foreign affairs subcommittees on the case of Maher Arar. ``We are trying to conduct additional interviews.''

Skinner said he is releasing a report later today on his investigation thus far into the Arar incident and is recommending the Department of Justice begin its own probe into the ``questionable activity'' of its employees.

Democrats said Skinner's report shows that administration officials thought it was likely Arar would be tortured in Syria and yet sent him there after receiving ambiguous reassurances. Democrats called for a criminal investigation.

``There is grounds'' for a criminal investigation, said Representative William Delahunt of Massachusetts. ``Why did they send Mr. Arar back to Syria? That is the question.''

While stopping short of backing a criminal probe, Republicans agreed the matter needed to be examined further.

``Full investigation, until this Congress has full understanding, is appropriate,'' said Representative Darrell Issa of California.

Detained at Airport

Arar sued the U.S. and Canadian governments after he was detained by the U.S. immigration officials during a stopover in John F. Kennedy International Airport and accused of links to terrorists. Bush administration officials maintain Arar is a threat and won't allow him into the U.S.

Last year, a Canadian inquiry found that the country's intelligence agency knew in 2002 that the U.S. was sending terrorism suspects to countries with poor human-rights records for questioning. An intelligence officer told his superiors that Arar was ``a case in point.''

The Canadian government has agreed to pay Arar C$10.5 million ($10.3 million).

In an interview with CBS News's ``60 Minutes,'' Arar said a Syrian intelligence officer beat him on the palms of his hands with a two-inch thick cable and that he lived for 10 months in a cell no bigger than ``a grave.''

To contact the reporter on this story: Jeff Bliss in Washington

Last Updated: June 5, 2008 14:53 EDT