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Key Democrat Wants to Know Why Arar Still Barred from US
Published on Wednesday, December 20, 2006 by the Toronto Star
Key Democrat Wants to Know Why Arar Still Barred from US
'Our country should sit down with yours and say: How did we all screw up here?'
by Tim Harper

The incoming chair of a powerful Senate committee says he will summon U.S. Attorney-General Alberto Gonzales before American legislators to explain why Maher Arar is still barred from the U.S.

Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy, who will chair the judiciary committee in the new Congress, said Arar has the right to know what suspicions the Bush administration still harbour against him after he was exonerated by a Canadian inquiry.

Maher Arar pauses during a news conference in Ottawa December 12, 2006. Stunned by revelations of police incompetence in the case of Arar, a Canadian man deported to Syria , the government launched an investigation on Tuesday into claims by three other men who say they were tortured in Syria because of information provided by Canadian authorities. Arar, born in Syria, was arrested in New York in 2002 and deported to Damascus, where he says he was repeatedly tortured for almost a year before being released. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)
"The Canadian government has now documented that the wrong thing was done to the wrong man," Leahy said.

"It is time for the (Bush) administration to do what it can to redress this wrong, instead of perpetuating it."

Leahy, in an interview with the Toronto Star, also said he believed the new Congress would rewrite the law that will require Canadians and Americans crossing the international border by land to carry passports by June 2009, at the latest.

In the last Republican-controlled Congress, the Vermont senator co-sponsored an amendment to push the border regulations back from its original Jan. 1, 2008 start date.

He also called the administration's plans to install electronic sensors and satellite security along the border "insulting to Canada ... and beneath the United States, and I don't see that it accomplishes anything."

Leahy says he wants Gonzales before his committee to discuss the entire U.S. policy of rendition and he said in a speech last week he will no longer put up with non-answers shrouded in security concerns or promises to get back to him.

"It's not just this individual case," Leahy said, "but what does this say when someone's plane stops here, they have citizenship in a neighbouring country and we ship them back to Syria.

"You know they are going to be tortured.

"This is beneath our country. And it does absolutely nothing to make us more secure and it is a gross human rights violation.

"One thing that can be done is our country should sit down with yours and say: How did we all screw up here?"

Arar's Toronto lawyer, Lorne Waldman, said he was "very encouraged" by Leahy's pledge.

"This moves the matter to the next level and we're quite pleased with that," he said.

Washington's ambassador to Ottawa, David Wilkins, said last week Arar remained on a "no-fly" list in the United States, but neither he nor the U.S. State Department would outline the reasons.

Leahy said Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian engineer, should be told by U.S. authorities what allegations they are making.

There are a number of lists held by American authorities that could ban Canadians from this country and since the U.S. justice department has classed Arar's case a "deportation" and not a "rendition," he was barred from the U.S. for five years from the 2002 date he was picked up at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York.

From there, he was sent to Syria where he was imprisoned and tortured.

On the border issue, Leahy said the fact he was able to co-sponsor an extension to the legislation with a conservative Republican, Ted Stevens of Alaska, shows there is bipartisan support to change the law.

He cautioned against reading too much into the Democratic pledge, often mentioned by incoming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, to implement all the recommendations of the 9/11 commission that studied the terrorist attacks in this country.

The passport or secure card rules sprung from that commission.

"Will Rogers, the great American comedian once said, `I belong to no organized political party, I'm a Democrat,'" he said. "Certainly we want to implement a number of recommendations from the 9/11 commission, but we are not a parliamentary form of government and we don't take party positions.

"It's great to say we're going to implement a lot of things that haven't been implemented, but you're not just going to take the 9/11 commission report as a piece of legislation and just pass it.

"It's not going to happen."

Leahy said he has heard more and more senators, beyond border states, saying the security legislation doesn't make sense.

"I think we'll go back to the drawing board," he said. "It has to be rewritten."

© Copyright Toronto Star


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