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Former terror suspect: 'I was beaten with a cable'

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NEW YORK (CNN) -- U.S. officials detained Maher Arar in 2002 at a New York airport as he was trying to return home to Canada from a vacation in Tunisia. Canada had placed Arar, a Syrian native, on a terrorism watch list. He says the U.S. arrested him and eventually sent him to Syria, where he allegedly was tortured and held for 10 months.

A Canadian report this week concluded that Arar wasn't a terrorism suspect. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales says the U.S. legally deported Arar and didn't send him to Syria to be tortured. Syria defends its handling of the case, saying a Canadian diplomat visited Arar twice and found he was treated well.

CNN's Miles O'Brien talked to Arar, 36, about his experience.

O'BRIEN: What exactly happened to you inside that Syrian prison?

ARAR: Well, I was beaten with a cable on multiple occasions. I was abused psychologically from time to time, and I was asked questions that would be of interest mostly to the Canadian RCMP police and the Canadian security agencies, and possibly to American agencies.

O'BRIEN: How did you respond?

ARAR: Well, I tried my best to answer them, you know, since I had nothing to the hide. But the Syrians, they basically beat first and ask questions second. And that's what they did to me. In fact, on the third day, to my surprise, they wanted me to confess that I had been to a training camp in Afghanistan, which at the end of that day, I falsely confessed to try to stop the beating. The beating did not stop. But the -- you know, it decreased in intensity after that false confession.

O'BRIEN: Did you think you'd get out of it alive?

ARAR: No, the beating I went through, just beyond human imagination. The cell they put me in, the size - it was the size of a grave, 3 feet wide, 6 feet long and 7 feet high. It was dark, it was filthy.

O'BRIEN: Do you blame the Canadian police for putting you on that watch list?

ARAR: Well, the findings of the inquiry report clearly state that it is likely that the Americans based their decision to send me to Syria on this false information. Well, this is not to absolve the American officials who took the decision from any responsibility. At the end of the day, they are the ones who took the decision to send me to a country that they themselves acknowledge practices torture on detainees.

O'BRIEN: What happened to you, I think most people would agree, is tragic and inexcusable. But in the war on terror, mistakes might be made. How do you address that?

ARAR: I think, you know, my story, speaks about basic human rights abuses that happen after 9/11. This was a deliberate, deliberate attempt to send me to Syria to extract information under torture. Now what I would like the U.S. government to do is to accept the findings of the inquiry and to clear my name. That's what I'm asking them to do at the minimum.


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Maher Arar

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