Leahy: "We knew damn well if he went to Canada he wouldn't be tortured. He'd be held and 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."
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."
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."
Maher Arar is a 34-year-old wireless technology consultant. He was born in Syria and came to Canada with his family at the age of 17. He became a Canadian citizen in 1991. On Sept. 26, 2002, while in transit in New York’s JFK airport when returning home from a vacation, Arar was detained by US officials and interrogated about alleged links to al-Qaeda. Twelve days later, he was chained, shackled and flown to Syria, where he was held in a tiny “grave-like” cell for ten months and ten days before he was moved to a better cell in a different prison. In Syria, he was beaten, tortured and forced to make a false confession.
During his imprisonment, Arar's wife, Monia Mazigh, campaigned relentlessly on his behalf until he was returned to Canada in October 2003. On Jan. 28, 2004, under pressure from Canadian human rights organizations and a growing number of citizens, the Government of Canada announced a Commission of Inquiry into the Actions of Canadian Officials in Relation to Maher Arar.
On September 18, 2006, the Commissioner of the Inquiry, Justice Dennis O'Connor, cleared Arar of all terrorism allegations, stating he was "able to say categorically that there is no evidence to indicate that Mr. Arar has committed any offence or that his activities constitute a threat to the security of Canada."
To read the Commissioner's report, including his findings on the actions of Canadian officials, please visit the Arar Commission's website or click here.
- Garry J. Wise, Toronto