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U.S. stands by decision to keep Arar on watch list 

[PoliticsWatch updated 5:00 p.m., January 26, 2007]

Maher Arar was deported to Syria where he was tortured.

OTTAWA  — The U.S. said Friday it is standing behind its decision to keep Maher Arar on a terror watch list despite efforts by Canadian politicians to have his named removed.     

"Based upon requests from Canada, the information in this case has been reexamined by the appropriate U.S. agencies," U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins said in a statement released Friday. 

"After that thorough review, the United States Government informed Canada of its decision to keep Mr. Arar on a U.S. watch list. We are standing by that decision."

Wilkins comments came near the end of the day when Prime Minister Stephen Harper formally apologized to Arar and the government paid out a settlement of $10.5 million plus $2 million in legal costs. 

Arar was born in Syria and later became a Canadian citizen who worked as a software engineer. 

While traveling through the U.S. in 2002, U.S. authorities deported Arar to Syria after receiving what a public inquiry later found was incorrect information from the RCMP alleging ties to Al-Qaeda. 

Arar was held in Syria and tortured before being released in October 2003. 

The American insistence to keep Arar on the watch list after direct intervention by Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day is creating the first major tensions in Canada-U.S. relations since the Conservative government was elected a little over a year ago.  

"Obviously this government has made a point of trying to establish better relations with the United States government and I think we have seen the fruits of that," Harper told reporters at a press conference on Parliament Hill Friday. 

"At the same time, this government reserves the right to disagree with the Americans when we have something substantial to disagree about."

The PM went on to say that the government does not believe Arar should be on a watch list and that has been articulated to the U.S. officials, including U.S. President George W. Bush. 

The U.S. has presented Canada a letter outlining why Arar remains on the watch list, but Day said there is no new information that has changed the Canadian government's view of Arar. 

Harper said Friday that the difference between Canada and the U.S. is how they view the "significance of the information" both sides have about Arar. 

Arar has said in the past that while he was held in Syria for 10 months he signed a false confession after being tortured which claims he trained at an Al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan. 

As recently as last September, U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez said he was "not aware" that Arar was tortured while being held in Syria. 

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