Sunday, January 21, 2007

GONZALES: NOT AT LIBERTY Surprised that this exchange about Maher Arar at Thursday's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing hasn't received more attention:
SEN. LEAHY: Something that made the news here in the United States was a question of Maher Arar...He is a Canadian citizen. He was returning home from a vacation. Plane stops at JFK in New York and continues on to Canada.

He was detained by federal agents at JFK Airport, 2002, on suspicion of ties to terrorism. He was deported to Syria. [Wasn't] 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. He was held for 10 months.

The Canadian commission later found that there was no evidence to support he had any terrorist connection or posed any threat but that he was tortured in Syria. He was held in abhorrent conditions there. And those sending him back must have known he was going to be tortured.

The Canadian government has apologized for its part of this debacle...This country has not said anything at all that we made any mistake or had any apology. Press accounts indicate the Justice Department approved his deportation to Syria. I've not heard anything clear from the Justice Department about their role in this affair.


ATTY GEN. GONZALES: As you know we are in litigation. What I want to do is, hopefully in the next few days, I'm happy to sit down with you and Senator Specter and give you more information. In fact we may be able to publicly say more about this shortly. I'm just not at liberty at this time--

SEN. LEAHY: Let me ask you this: Why aren't you at liberty? I don't understand that. It's not a matter of executive privilege.

ATTY GEN. GONZALES: No, sir, again, and I'm not--

SEN. LEAHY: Because only the president can claim, you can't.

ATTY GEN. GONZALES: (Laughs.) I'm not suggesting that I will not be able to answer your questions. I'm just suggesting I can't do it today.


ATTY GEN. GONZALES: I just-- sir, I'm not--there is not a position--I can't represent the position of executive branch on this particular issue. But I think in a relatively short period of time there's more information that I should be able to share with you and hopefully that we can share publicly.
And then:
SEN. LEAHY: Why was he sent to Syria instead of Canada?

ATTY GEN. GONZALES: Well, again Senator, I'd be happy to answer these questions. I'm aware of the list of questions you--I think you and Senator--Chairman Biden have submitted with respect to this particular case. I think we can say a lot more about it if you just simply give me some additional time.

SEN. LEAHY: Can you tell me whether you took steps to ensure that he wouldn't be tortured? Of course he was.

ATTY GEN. GONZALES: I believe that piece of information is public. There were steps-- I think General Ashcroft confirmed this publicly--is that there were assurances sought that he would not be tortured from Syria. But he--

SEN. LEAHY: Oh -- (laughs.) Attorney General, I'm sorry; I don't mean to treat this lightly.

We knew damned well if he went to Canada he wouldn't be tortured. He'd be held and he'd be investigated. We also knew damned 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. It has brought about the condemnation of some of our closest and best allies. They have made those comments both publicly and privately to the president of the United States and others.

And it is easy for us to sit here comfortably in this room, knowing that we're not going to be sent off to another country to be tortured, to treat it as though well, Attorney General Ashcroft stated we got assurances.A ssurances? From a country that we also say now, oh we can't talk to them because we can't take their word for anything.

ATTY GEN. GONZALES: Well, Senator, I--

SEN. LEAHY: I'm somewhat upset.

ATTY GEN. GONZALES: Yes, sir, I can tell.

CONTRAPOSITIVE is edited by Dan Aibel. Dan's a playwright. He lives in New York City.