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U.S. officials: Canadian should stay on terror list

Story Highlights

• Case of Canadian Maher Arar, torture allegations has been politically charged
• U.S. attorney general, other official tells Canada Arar should stay on terror list
• A 2006 Canadian report found Arar, a Syrian native, shouldn't be on such a list
NEW: Senator says larger issues not addressed by U.S. officials
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- American officials said Monday that a Canadian should remain on a U.S. terrorist watch list despite the Canadian government's conclusion otherwise and its apology after the designation led to his detention in Syria.

In a joint letter, U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff informed Stockwell Day, Canada's minister of public safety, that they had again looked at intelligence in their possession concerning Maher Arar.

"Based on this re-examination, we remain of the view that the continued watch listing of Mr. Arar is appropriate," the U.S. officials said.

"Our conclusion in this regard is supported by information developed by U.S. law enforcement agencies that is independent of that provided to us by Canada regarding Mr. Arar."

In 2002, U.S. officials detained Arar 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 said the United States arrested him and eventually sent him to Syria, where he allegedly was tortured and held for 10 months.

In September, a Canadian report concluded that Arar wasn't a terrorism suspect. Gonzales has said 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. Human rights groups widely criticize the Damascus government for torturing prisoners

The Arar case has been politically charged. Last week, Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, sharply criticized Gonzales about the case during the attorney general's appearance before the panel.

On Monday, Leahy complained the letter does not address what he called "the larger issues surrounding this case."

"The reason the Arar case is such a sore point and such an offense to American values is that he was sent to Syria on the Bush administration's orders, where he was tortured," Leahy said in a written statement.

He said he was puzzled by the decision to keep Arar on the watch list, but said he would await a promised briefing by Gonzales.

Justice Department officials said Monday that the attorney general will inform the lawmaker why the Bush administration believes Arar should remain on the watch list.

In their letter to the Canadian minister, the U.S. officials said they would like to brief the Canadians "in a confidential meeting with appropriate Canadian officials at their earliest convenience."

CNN's Terry Frieden contributed to this report.


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U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testifies last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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