By Chief foreign affairs correspondent
NBC News
updated 3/7/2005 8:03:24 PM ET 2005-03-08T01:03:24

Thirty-four-year-old Maher Arar, a Canadian engineer born in Syria, says he was arrested at JFK airport after a family vacation with his wife and children a year after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He says he was flown on a private jet to Jordan and driven to Syria. There, he says, an interrogator tortured him for 10 months.

"He hit me very strongly," says the 34-year-old Arar. "And then some time later he told me to open my left hand and he hit me again."

Arar was eventually released, with no charges filed. Who was responsible for his ordeal?

"The American officials who sent me there," says Arar. "They sent me there to be tortured."

Arar is now suing the U.S. government. He is one of at least 150 suspects taken secretly since 9/11 to countries like Egypt, Syria, Pakistan and Jordan for questioning — all countries cited last week by the State Department for torturing prisoners.

"Maher Arar's case is a perfect example of the concerns that we have about the United States sending people abroad to be interrogated with a very excessive use of psychological and physical force," says Jeffrey Fogel, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights who is representing Arar.

Arar was flown on a Gulfstream 5 jet, similar to one owned by a dummy company fronting for the CIA. That plane was used to transport al-Qaida targets like Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11. The CIA also uses a 737 as a backup.

The agency says it is not delivering suspects for torture.

"Of course, once they're out of our control, there's only so much we can do," said CIA director Porter Goss when a congressional committee asked him about the issue on Feb. 16.

But former officials defend the practice.

"There may be justification or a reason for doing it to put additional pressure on an individual to describe what they were doing," says Fred Hitz, a former inspector general of the CIA.

Officials tell NBC News the CIA policy began under President Bill Clinton but was greatly expanded by George Bush shortly after 9/11. Defenders call it a critical weapon in the war on terror.

But now some congressional Democrats call it outsourcing torture and say what happened to Maher Arar should be banned — period.

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