January 26, 2007

Senator Rips Gonzalez on Extraordinary Rendition

What you will see in the video below is the best example for why we need to have a Democratic majority in Congress when we have a Republican in the White House. This is the way our system of checks and balances should ideally work. Knowledgeable representatives questioning those in power and defending the rights of the citizens they represent.

I've previously blogged about the case of Canadian citizen Maher Arar who was arrested while traveling through the US, unjustifiably suspected of terrorist involvement, and subsequently flown to Syria, his country of birth. There, Syrian officials tortured him for months on end without any proof that he had been even remotely involved in "terrorist activity." The US sent him to Syria knowing fully well that he would be tortured there. They did so under an American policy known as extraordinary rendition, where suspected terrorists are sent to countries to be questioned using illegal torture methods, some of which are Egypt, Syria, Morocco, and some Eastern European countries. You can read more about the this reprehensible policy in my previous posts. Maher was finally flown back to Canada, where the government opened an investigation into the rendition. The results of the investigation showed that Maher Arar was completely innocent of the claims the US had made, that he should not have been sent to Syria, and that the Canadian intelligence officials had wrongly indicated he may have been involved in terrorist activity. The Canadian government apologized to Arar, and today announced that he would receive $10.5 million for his ordeal. The Canadian government also asked the US to start its own investigation into why he was sent to Syria.

"I wish I could buy my life back," he [Arar] lamented Friday after Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the money and formally apologized for his hellish ordeal in a Syrian prison. "That's my biggest wish." Arar said no amount of cash can compensate for the 10 months he suffered in a tiny concrete cell, the agonizing torture sessions he endured, or the years he struggled under the damning label of suspected terrorist.
During a Senate Judiciary Hearing this week on Justice Department Oversight, Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy grilled Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez on the reasons why the US sent Arar to Syria instead of Canada, indicating that the US knew that he would be tortured there. Gonzalez fumbled a lame answer telling the senator that he would provide him with more information on the case in a week, privately. Senator Leahy did the right thing to question the Attorney General on this policy which he said has put our relations with close allies at risk.

Thank you, Senator, for speaking truth to power, for being the voice of many Americans who are against this dispicable policy, who are against torture in all forms, who are against the Bush administration's policies that place our lives at risk, and that taint the America that we all would hope is a beacon of freedom and justice instead of a safe haven for repression. You have given us hope that such injustices cannot go on forever without someone speaking out against them.

Below is the full video of the exchange between the senator and the attorney general. There is a shorter CNN clip here. Also, the strong statement Senator Leahy made before the questioning can be found here.

You can write a note thanking the Senator for his strong words and defense of our civil rights by clicking here or sending an email to senator_leahy@leahy.senate.gov.

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