Friday, January 19, 2007

Transcript of Gonzales-Leahy Exchange on Maher Arar

The RCMP commissioner didn't resign over what happened to Arar but rather because he gave contradictory testimony --or as one of his questioners put it: In which version of events did you commit perjury?

Transcript of Gonzales-Leahy exchange on Arar

January 18, 2007
This is an edited transcript of the exchange yesterday between U.S. Attorney-General Alberto Gonzales and Senate judiciary committee chairman Patrick Leahy.
LEAHY: You know, I live about an hour's drive from Canada and go up there often. And in Vermont, we tend to get a lot of Canadian news, just radio and so on.
But something that made the news here in the United States was the question of Maher Arar. -- M-A-H-E-R A-R-A-R, in case I mispronounce it.
He's 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; 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. He was held for 10 months.
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 in this debacle. In fact, the head of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police actually resigned over it. The country is prepared to compensate him for it.
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.
And I understand he remained on the United States terrorist watch list so he couldn't come 50 miles or 75 miles, whatever, south into the United States without fear of being picked up again, sent back to Syria.
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: Senator, I've got some very definite views about this particular case, as you know...
LEAHY: Well, go ahead.
GONZALES: ... beyond litigation. What I want to do is, hopefully, in the next few days – I'm happy to sit down with you and Senator (Arlen) 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, to...
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.
GONZALES: No, sir, again, and I'm not ...
LEAHY: It's only the president that can ...
GONZALES: No, I'm not suggesting that I will not be able to answer your questions. I'm just suggesting I can't do it today.
GONZALES: I just – sir, I'm not – there is not a position – I can't represent the position of the 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.
LEAHY: But why was he sent to Syria instead of Canada?
GONZALES: Well, again, Senator, I'd be happy to answer these questions I think we can say a lot more about it, if you just simply give me some additional time.
LEAHY: Can you tell me why (then attorney-general John Ashcroft) took steps to ensure that he wouldn't be tortured?
Of course, he was.
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.
LEAHY: Attorney-General ...
... I'm sorry. I don't mean to treat this lightly. 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. It has brought about the condemnation of some of our closest and best allies.
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 says we've got assurances.
Assurances from a country that we also say, now, we can't talk to them because we can't take their word for anything?
GONZALES: Well, Senator, I ...
LEAHY: I'm somewhat upset.
GONZALES: Yes, sir, I can tell. But before you get more upset, perhaps you should wait to receive the briefing ...
LEAHY: How long?
GONZALES: I'm hoping that we can get you the information next week.
LEAHY: Well, Attorney-General, I'll tell you what I'll do: I'll meet you halfway on this.
I'll wait next week for that briefing. If we don't get it, I guarantee you there will be another hearing on this issue.
Canadians have been our closest allies – longest unguarded frontier in the world. They're justifiably upset. They're wondering what's happened to us. They're wondering what's happened to us.
Now you know and I know, we're a country with a great, great tradition of protecting people's individual liberties and rights. You take an oath of office to do that; I take an oath of office to do that. I believe, in my basic core nature, in that. My grandparents, when they immigrated to this country, believed that.
Let us not, let us not create more terrorism around the world by telling the world that we cannot keep up to our basic standards and beliefs.
So I'll wait a week, I'll wait a week, but I won't wait more than a week for that briefing.
GONZALES: I look forward to being able to provide the briefing that you are requesting.
LEAHY: Thank you.

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