10 days ago, Ca 48 Steve Young posted a diary entited Did Gonzalez respond to Leahy's deadline? In it he recounted a Senate Judiciary Hearing where Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez stonewalled on answering questions surrounding the case of Maher Arar, A Canadian citizen who was abducted from JFK airport and sent to Syria where he was tortured. In the exchange, Leahy finally got Gonzalez to agree to answer his questions within a week. Ca 48 Steve Young called upon Kossaks to follow up on this story and hold Gonzalez accountable for his words. I wrote Senator Leahy and received a substantive reponse yesterday. I've read here before that a public official's words are public words, so I have no compunction about posting his letter below. Besides, I think Senator Leahy appreciates that the blogosere has got his back and welcomes any accountability that can be brought to bear on the Department of Justice.
The letter begins with the background on the case:
Thank you for contacting me about Maher Arar. I appreciate knowing of your concerns.
On September 26, 2002, Canadian citizen Maher Arar was detained by American authorities at JFK Airport as he attempted to change planes on his way home to Canada from a family vacation in Tunisia . He was held for 12 days and then turned over to Syria , where he was tortured, according to a Canadian commission of inquiry. The Canadian commission later determined that there was no evidence linking Arar to terrorist activity.
The case of Maher Arar is chilling, but not unique. Allegations of the transfer of detainees to countries like Egypt and Uzbekistan have also surfaced. Little is known about these cases, and my repeated attempts to receive more information from the Department of Justice have been ignored. On September 22, 2006, I wrote to Attorney General Gonzales requesting a full explanation of the U.S. Government's conduct in connection with the arrest, detention, and rendition of Mr. Arar. I also inquired why the U.S. Government chose not to cooperate with Canada 's investigation, and whether it had conducted any investigation of its own.
He further explains how the US kept Arar on a watch list, even though the Canadian inquiry found Arar to be no threat:
On January 16, Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff and Attorney General Gonzales responded to Canadian Minister of Public Safety Stockwell Day's inquiries on the status of U.S. records for Mr. Arar. Their decision to keep Mr. Arar's name on a U.S. border control watch list after a reexamination of his case raised further questions. Canadian officials have extensively reviewed Mr. Arar's case and have determined that he poses no threat and has no connections to terrorist organizations.
Then Leahy describes the hearing where Gonzalez promised to answer his questions. It appears from the Senator's response that the Department of Justice did answer the questions, but those answers are classified information that left Leahy with more questions:
At a Department of Justice oversight hearing on January 18, 2007, I questioned the Attorney General again on the case of Mr. Arar. While refusing to answer questions I had regarding the detention and rendition of Mr. Arar, the Attorney General promised to provide more information about the case shortly. On February 1, the Department of Justice held a classified briefing for Senator Specter and me. After this lengthy briefing, I concluded that we have just begun to address the many questions regarding this case, and there are many more that need to be asked and answered. My concerns about this case remain.
Finally, Leahy discusses his bill that would stop the practice of rendition to countries known to use torture:
You will be happy to know that on March 17, 2005, I introduced a bill to prohibit the transfer of persons by the United States to countries where torture is known to be used or there are otherwise substantial grounds for believing that the person would be in danger of being tortured. Unfortunately, no action was taken on this bill during the 109th Congress. You can be certain that as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, I will continue to hold the Bush-Cheney Administration accountable.
Thank you again for contacting me. Please keep in touch.
UNITED STATES SENATOR
I was heartened to see mention of this bill, introduced on St. Patrick's Day no less! But note that he makes no statement that he will reintroduce the bill in the 110th Congress. He may well have such plans, but he does not spell them out. His website does have a link to a February 1 press conference where he and Specter discuss the matter after the Justice Department briefing. They don't offer much for reasons of national security and Leahy did not even opine as to whether Arar should remain on the watch list. He focuses on the issue of why Arar was taken to Syria and not Canada. So we are going to have to remain attentive here. I emailed Senator Leahy and asked if he would reintroduce his bill from March 17, 2005. Beyond that, I dont know how we can get public accountability if the story is going to be filed "classified."
Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. Corny I know but one of the reasons I love this place is that people here still believe stuff like that.