This may go down as a minor deception among all the far more egregious ones which have been cataloged regarding Bush’s war on terror, but Alberto Gonzales’ comments today about the Maher Arar torture/rendition case are gems of their class (of mendaciousness, that is).
You’ll recall that Arar is the Canadian citizen “suspected of being linked to the Al Qaeda movement” by the Royal Mounted Police (Canada’s FBI). After this faulty information was passed on to U.S. Homeland Security, Arar, his wife and his two young children were all placed on terrorist watch lists. Returning from a trip abroad to his Canadian home via New York, he was detained by U.S. authorities. They contacted the Canadians telling them Arar would be returned to Switzerland which was a lie meant to give the U.S. enough time to spirit him out of the country so he could be placed in the extraordinary rendition program and interrogated about his alleged terrorist connections. He ended up in a Syrian jail for nearly a year where he was tortured. He was finally released when he somehow persuaded the Syrians that he was who he said he was, a Canadian software engineer with absolutely no ties direct or indirect to terror.
A Canadian report yesterday cleared Arar of all charges and noted the egregious errors by the RMP [a reader corrects me and I should’ve written ‘RCMP’) which allowed him to be labelled a terrorist. The report also singled out the U.S. for its deceptions which prevented the Canadian government from interceding in the case in a timely manner. But we, of course, refused to cooperate with the investigation in any way.
But the real kicker here is this quote in the NY Times story from Gonzales:
In Washington, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said he had not read the report, but said, “We were not responsible for his removal to Syria,” adding, “I’m not aware that he was tortured.”
Who does this joker think he’s kidding? If we weren’t responsible for his rendition then who was? I’m guessing this is some stupid linguistic subterfuge by which we employed contractors not directly on the federal payroll who actually transported him to Syria and therefore we can “plausibly” deny involvement. If so, this is the lamest-ass statement I could imagine. As for “not being aware” that Arar was tortured: of course you aren’t: monkey see no evil, hear no evil–right?
Oh and what was the basis for the false charge that he was Al Qaeda?
The commission found that Mr. Arar first came to police attention on Oct. 12, 2001, when he met with Abdullah Almalki, a man already under surveillance by a newly established Mounted Police intelligence unit known as Project A-O Canada. Mr. Arar has said in interviews that the meeting at Mango’s Cafe in Ottawa, and a subsequent 20-minute conversation outside the restaurant, was mostly about finding inexpensive ink jet printer cartridges.
The meeting set off a chain of actions by the police. Investigators obtained a copy of Mr. Arar’s rental lease. After finding Mr. Almalki listed as an emergency contact, they stepped up their investigation of Mr. Arar. At the end of that month, the police asked customs officials to include Mr. Arar and his wife on a “terrorist lookout” list…
…The commission found that the designation should have only been applied to people who are members or associates of terrorist networks. Neither the police nor customs had any such evidence of that concerning Mr. Arar or his wife, an economist.
From there, the Mounted Police asked that the couple be included in a database that alerts United States border officers to suspect individuals. The police described Mr. Arar and his wife as, the report said, “Islamic extremists suspected of being linked to the al Qaeda movement.”
I’d love to see some investigative reporters really dig into this and find out more about the U.S. role in Arar’s detention and rendition.
If this doesn’t give pause to those senators deliberating on whether to approve Bush’s claim that the CIA should have wide latitude in our interrogation and treatment of suspected terrorists, then what will? I also note that while the president has brought all detainees imprisoned under the extraordinary rendition program to Guantanamo, he has by no means closed the program. Clearly, he’d like to renew it once he gets through all the “unpleasantness” regarding getting Congressional approval. Senate: don’t let him do it!