Leahy demands answers on Arar “rendition”

One of the good things about the new Democratic majorities in Congress is that perhaps we’ll finally see some light shed on the shadowy, horrendous US policy of “rendition,” in which terrorism suspects are turned over to foreign countries known to torture people in their custody.

Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, questioned Attorney General Alberto Gonzales at a hearing Thursday about the case of Maher Arar, a Canadian who ended up being tortured in Syria after US officials grabbed him on a stopover in New York. A Canadian investigation last year cleared Arar of any involvement in terrorism.

“We knew damn well if he went to Canada he wouldn’t be tortured,” said Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont. “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.

“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.”

Leahy noted that U.S. officials claimed to have had assurances that people sent to Syria would not be tortured.

“Assurances,” he snorted, “from a country that we also say now that we can’t talk to them because we can’t take their word for anything.”

Gonzales said he hoped to provide the committee a briefing on the Arar case next week.