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US Senator Leahy Scolds Attorney General Over Canadian Sent To Syria January 19, 2007

Posted by notapundit in Congress, Politics, US News.
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WASHINGTON (AP)–The new chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee scolded Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for refusing to explain why the United States sent a Canadian citizen to Syria, where he says he was tortured. The senator demanded an explanation within a week.

Senator Patrick Leahy also lectured Gonzales about the alleged practice of “rendition,” in which foreign terror suspects are secretly transferred to third countries where critics say they may face torture
“It is a black mark on us,” Leahy said.

Leahy threatened that if Gonzales failed to respond about the case of Maher Arar in a week’s time, he will hold a formal hearing dedicated solely to Arar’s case.

U.S. authorities seized Arar at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport in 2002 and held him incommunicado for a week. Finally deported by private jet to Syria, Arar spent 10 months in a Syrian jail during which, Canadian authorities say, he was tortured.

Democrat Leahy broached the Arar case at the end of a sometimes-testy back-and-forth with Gonzales about the Justice Department’s operations and administration policies.

The senator gave a brief rundown of how U.S. agents seized Arar when his plane touched down in New York en route home to Canada.

Eventually, he “was not sent on the couple of hundred miles to Canada and turned over to the Canadian authorities, but he was sent thousands of miles away to Syria.”

U.S. officials have said little about the case. The Canadians admit that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had passed along Arar’s name as a person under suspicion of having ties to terrorists.

Because of the uproar the case caused among rights advocates, however, a Canadian government-appointed commission conducted a full-scale inquiry and found no evidence that Arar had posed any threat or had terror connections. The head of the RCMP was forced to resign.

“The Canadian government has apologized for its part in this debacle,” Leahy told Gonzales. “This country has not said anything at all that we made any mistake or had any apology.”

Despite his clean bill of health, Leahy said, Arar remains on the United States terrorist watch list and is afraid to come into the United States for fear of being arrested again.

Leahy asked, “Why is he on a government watch list if he’s been found completely innocent by this Canadian commission, which actually had the information from us?”

Gonzales said he had definite views about the case but could say nothing for now.

He suggested he get together with Leahy and the committee’s top Republican, Senator Arlen Specter, in a few days.

Arar is suing the U.S. government for his rendition to Syria, where he was held for a year in a dark, damp prison cell before being released and cleared by Syrian authorities of any links to terrorists.

Leahy, presiding over the committee’s first hearing into Justice Department operations since Democrats took control of the Senate on Jan. 4, pressed on:

“But why was he sent to Syria instead of Canada?”

Gonzales tried again to demur until later.

“Can you tell me whether we took steps to ensure that he wouldn’t be tortured?” Leahy asked.

The attorney general said his predecessor, John Ashcroft, “confirmed this publicly, that there were assurances sought… from Syria.”

“Assurances from a country that we also say, now, we can’t talk to them because we can’t take their word for anything?,” Leahy retorted.

“We knew damn well, if he went to Canada, he wouldn’t be tortured. He’d be held. He’d be investigated.

“We also knew damn well, if he went to Syria, he’d be tortured.

“And it’s beneath the dignity of this country, a country that has always been a beacon of human rights, to send somebody to another country to be tortured.

“You know, and I know, that has happened a number of times in the past five years by this country. It is a black mark on us.”

U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Wilkins, however, said in December that the Ottawa engineer still poses a threat to the United States and would remain on its watch list.

“The decision to remove Mr. Arar from the United States in 2002 was made by U.S. officials based on our own independent assessment of the threat to the United States,” Wilkins said.

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