Monday, January 22, 2007

More on the letter of Chertoff and Gonzales on Arar

This whole matter is becoming more bizarre by the minute. This letter is a week old. Stockwell Day has already seen the US evidence and even he thought it made no difference that Arar should be taken off the list. Gonzales is supposed to brief Sen. Leahy this week. It will be interesting what Gonzales will have to say and what Leahy will respond. Is Leahy going to hold hearings into the whole issue of rendition. Arar is suing the US government but it is unlikely to go anywhere since the government will plead national security grounds not to have a suit I expect.

Monday » January 22 » 2007

U.S. officials say they'll keep Maher Arar on their security watch list

Beth Gorham

Canadian Press

Monday, January 22, 2007

WASHINGTON (CP) - Two top American officials have told Canada they have no plans to take Canadian Maher Arar off the U.S. security watch list.

In a letter released Monday, Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said they've looked at the secret U.S. file on Arar and think the decision is "appropriate." "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," said the letter to Stockwell Day, Canada's public safety minister.

It also offers to share the classified information with Canadians in a timely "confidential meeting."

But the letter is dated last Tuesday, two days before Day met with Chertoff and said afterward that Canadian officials had "looked at all the U.S. information" and found "nothing new" to suggest Arar was a safety risk.

"We are still maintaining that he should not be on that (no) fly list," Day said.

On Monday, Day reiterated Canada's position.

"We do not deem Mr. Arar or his family to be a security risk."

Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, who blasted Gonzales last week about the Arar case and demanded a briefing, said Monday that he is "puzzled" about the U.S. decision, given Canada's different conclusion.

"I am disappointed that the letter does not address the larger issues surrounding this case," he said in a release.

Arar, a Canadian engineer, was detained in New York in 2002 and sent to Syria, where he was imprisoned for more than a year and tortured into making false confessions of terrorist involvement.

He has become the best-known case of the U.S. policy of extraordinary rendition, which involves sending a foreigner to a third country that is known to use torture.

"This abhorrent practice stains America's reputation as a defender and protector of human rights," said Leahy, who has threatened to hold a public hearing on the case if Gonzales doesn't come through.

"Yet the Bush administration has yet to renounced (it) and it has yet to offer even the hint of an apology to Mr. Arar."

The New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents Arar in his lawsuit against U.S. officials, said the administration is trying to confuse the situation with a week-old letter.

"It is now crystal clear that the U.S. has shown everything it has on Mr. Arar to Canada and that there is no reason for him to be on a watch list," said lawyer Maria LaHood.

Last week, Leahy, who heads the Senate judiciary committee, told Gonzales officials knew "damn well" Arar would be tortured when they deported him to Syria and that Canadians are "justifiably upset."

Canada's public inquiry exonerated Arar last fall and concluded RCMP gave U.S. authorities misleading information about Arar before he was deported.

The United States did not inform Canada that he was being sent to Syria.

Last month, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she asked Chertoff and the Justice Department to investigate why Arar can't enter the country or even fly over U.S. airspace.

Chertoff refused to comment on the case last week, citing privacy rules and even suggesting it's a hypothetical issue.

"This becomes a relevant issue only if and when somebody presents themselves to come into the U.S."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper demanded an apology from the United States but had to settle last fall for a promise to collaborate with Canada on any future deportation cases.

© The Canadian Press 2007

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