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Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler on Maher Arar, Rendition, Voting Rights Chair John Tanner, and Seeking Justice for the Jena 6

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Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York joins us from Capitol Hill to talk about why he thinks the Bush administration should compensate and apologize to Maher Arar. Rep. Nadler also addresses recent controversies around John Tanner of the Voting Rights section and birth control foe Susan Orr, the newly appointed acting deputy assistant secretary for population affairs. And Nadler talks about congressional efforts to intervene in the case of the Jena 6. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Democratic Congressmember Jerrold Nadler of New York joins us now from Capitol Hill. He is the chair of the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. Congressmember Nadler, your response to Maher Arar’s testimony and that he couldn’t testify before you in person?

REP. JERROLD NADLER: Well, I, as did other members of the committee, apologized on behalf of the American people for the disgusting treatment to which our government, I believe, knowingly subjected him. The fact that he couldn’t testify in front of our committee is completely unjustified, because our government, despite no compelling evidence for it, that keeps him on a terrorist list, on a no-fly list, won’t let him into the country even to testify at our request, because we had requested that he be let into the country to testify before our subcommittee, and that was refused.

I believe that what happened here was that the United States government consciously and deliberately conspired with the government of Syria to have him tortured. That’s why he was rendered to Syria. This was not a case of expedited removal, as the attorney general, I believe, untruthfully testified to our subcommittee. And I think this violates the criminal statute against torture. The obvious — the only reason to send him to Syria was to have him tortured. The fact that we sought assurances, diplomatic assurances, from a country that’s on the State Department terrorist list and that’s been on the list for 10 years of countries that routinely practice torture is obviously a joke.

AMY GOODMAN: There are believed to be thousands of cases of the U.S. engaging in this extraordinary term, “extraordinary rendition,” which many just say is White House for “kidnapping.” How is Congress, now run by Democrats, dealing with this? How do you get at this issue?

REP. JERROLD NADLER: Well, it’s very difficult to get at the issue when the Justice Department won’t prosecute cases. We’re holding hearings and investigating to bring some of these facts to light. It’s already — we can’t make it a criminal act, because it’s already a criminal act. So I’m not — besides bringing this to light and referring this to the Justice Department for prosecution, I’m not sure what we can do.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re calling for the U.S. to apologize to Maher Arar?

REP. JERROLD NADLER: Oh, absolutely. The U.S. should apologize to him. The U.S. should compensate him. The Canadian government voted $10.5 million compensation for their role in it. We should probably do at least that, perhaps a lot more, because our role was a lot worse than their role. And I believe some of the officials who were involved in this should be held to account.

AMY GOODMAN: It was Stephen Harper, the Bush ally, the prime minister of Canada, who announced the $10 million the Canadian government was giving to Maher Arar. And it’s interesting to see a Bush ally castigate the Bush administration over this issue, over sending him to a country that President Bush himself said walks down the road of terrorism.

REP. JERROLD NADLER: Well, and the State Department annual human rights report says that they not only practice — says that they routinely torture people. So we had every right — every reason, I should say, to expect that he would be tortured, if he were given to them under circumstances that suggested to them that the United States government suspected him of being a terrorist.

Now, since he’s — now, notice what happened here. He didn’t try to enter the United States. The expedited removal statute is designed to stop people from coming into the United States who don’t have proper documents and to give us an expedited way — I opposed its enactment, but it’s supposed to give us an expedited way, without going before an immigration judge, of preventing someone who’s illegal from entering the United States in the first place — that is, whose presence in the United States would be illegal. But he wasn’t seeking to enter the United States; he was changing planes at Kennedy on a flight from Europe to Canada. If we suspected him of something, we should simply have sent him on to Canada, which is a foreign country. He wasn’t seeking to enter the United States. Instead, we chose to send him to Syria, where he had been born and where he lived until he was a teenager, but otherwise he had no connections with them. And the only obvious reason to do that is to have him tortured.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the companies that are involved with extraordinary rendition? For example, there’s this other case of Khalid El-Masri, the German citizen who was the victim of extraordinary rendition. Aero Contractors has been closely involved, connected to the CIA’s rendition program and was involved with El-Masri’s torture and kidnapping. Germany recently issued arrest warrants for three — at least three — of Aero contractors involved in his case. It’s based, I believe, in North Carolina.

REP. JERROLD NADLER: Well, a company that only did this in Germany would be subject to German law, not to American law. They did nothing illegal in the United States, I would assume. But they would certainly be subject to German law, which — I mean, this would be kidnapping. I assume it’s a serious offense — it ought to be — in Germany. And, of course, if the United States is snatching someone off the streets of a foreign country and sending him to a third country to be tortured or, for that matter, not be tortured, that’s frankly a kidnapping. And most countries have laws against kidnapping. And, in fact, arrest warrants have been issued in both Italy and Germany against CIA agents who conspired in this. And I think it’s very wrong for the United States to be ordering employees of the United States — that is, CIA agents — to violate the laws of friendly countries and to subject them to prosecution.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Nadler, I wanted to switch gears and ask you about Tanner, the chief of the Voting Rights section of the department of — Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department, who admitted earlier this month that elderly voters might be disenfranchised by new restrictive voter ID laws. John Tanner made the comment at the National Latino Congress. Tanner went on to say white elderly voters would be harmed most by the voter ID laws, because most minorities die before becoming elderly.

JOHN TANNER: Of course, that also ties into the racial aspect, because our society is such that minorities don’t become elderly the way white people do; they die first. There are inequities in healthcare. There are a variety of inequities in this country, and so anything that disproportionately impacts the elderly has the opposite impact on minorities. Just the math is such as that.

AMY GOODMAN: This was videotaped and shown on bradblog. The comments prompted a letter from Barack Obama to the acting attorney general, calling for Tanner’s immediate dismissal. You were asking questions about him before he was even elevated to head the Civil Rights Division. What are you calling for now?

REP. JERROLD NADLER: Well, he should certainly be fired, obviously. Obviously, someone who has such prejudices has no business heading the voting rights section or any other branch of the government and certainly not being on the Federal Voting Commission, which is supposed to enforce our election laws and our voting rights laws.

Now, Mr. Tanner, as head of the voting rights section, perverted the Justice Department — or he and a few others perverted the Justice Department from seeking to protect people’s civil rights and the right to vote to seeking deliberately, I believe — and I think a number of reports have shown this — to use the Justice Department to disenfranchise people likely to vote Democratic, specifically minorities and more elderly people. You know, here he’s admitting that procedures that he sought to put into place would discriminate against elderly people in voting, would cause valid elderly voters not to be able to vote. That’s against the law, and it obviously also should be against the policy of the United States government. But we know that the Bush administration has been using these voter ID cards, the fear of — so far never demonstrated — voter fraud, to put into place all sorts of new restrictions, voter ID cards, purge lists and so forth, which we know have the effect of disproportionately disenfranchising legal elderly and minority but likely-to-vote-Democratic voters.

AMY GOODMAN: I also wanted to ask you about another appointment that you’ve been involved with contesting. You, along with other congressmembers like California’s Henry Waxman, wrote a letter to the Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt, urging him to reconsider the appointment of Susan Orr to head the Office of Family Planning. What is your concern?

REP. JERROLD NADLER: Well, Susan Orr is — or was an official, I believe, of the Family Research Council, if memory serves. But more to the point, she has repeatedly expressed the opinion that contraception is wrong and evil and that we shouldn’t be engaged in it and that the government shouldn’t be engaged in promoting the use of contraceptives. Now, the appointment to which she — the position to which she has been appointed is as head of an agency of the government whose prime function is to promote the proper use of contraceptives in order to prevent unwanted pregnancies. So, obviously, someone who does not believe in the mission of the agency, who thinks that if the agency does its job it’s doing something wrong, is not qualified to be the head of that agency.

Now, of course, we have seen the Bush administration repeatedly appoint people to all sorts of regulatory agencies who obviously do not — and by their own admission do not — believe in the functions and purposes of those agencies. And such appointments, including this one, are obviously made to sabotage — either to sabotage the work of the agency or just to give a political plum to some right-wing organization that the administration wants to make happy.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Congressman Nadler, on another issue, on the issue of the Jena Six, and you were a part of the hearing on this case, where the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Louisiana, Donald Washington, testified. He had done a report on what happened in Jena, the six kids who were originally charged with attempted second-degree murder for a schoolyard fight, and he had done a report saying that the nooses that were hung from a schoolyard tree when the black students tried to sit down under that tree at Jena High School were not a hate crime. What is your assessment of this case and where it’s going? Mychal Bell, one of the six, has now been put back in jail.

REP. JERROLD NADLER: Well, this case is a case where the local authorities — the local DA, in particular, district attorney, in particular — now, these were, in one way, unconnected. I mean, you had the biased — what I would call the biased crime of the nooses being hung under the tree, and a few months later you have this — by a bunch of white kids, and a few months later you have this white kid beaten up by a bunch of black kids.

Now, what was notable, what made this a major case, is that, on the one hand, the local authorities do essentially nothing. I think the kids who hung the nooses were suspended from school for a day or two. On the other hand, the black kids who are involved in — or allegedly involved in this are charged with serious crimes, initially attempted murder, when their only weapon — in attempted murder there has to be with a weapon, and here they’re saying the weapons were their hands, which is not the way they normally do things in Louisiana.

AMY GOODMAN: I think it was their sneakers.

REP. JERROLD NADLER: Sneakers, alright. They didn’t come there with weapons, with objects designed to be weapons, which is the intent of the statute. So the point is, they were very clearly throwing the book, and then some, at the black kids, but doing virtually nothing — letting off with a slap on the wrist — the white kids. And it’s just disparate treatment and an example. Instead of trying to calm racial tensions, they’re acting in every way to inflame racial tensions and to help the white bigots. And this was a case — and that shouldn’t — that obviously shouldn’t be.

And the first thing that we had to do and other people had to do was say, wait a minute, you can’t charge a bunch of juveniles with attempted murder for what amounts to a rather severe schoolyard fight, number one. And that was eventually taken care of. But they’re still really throwing the book at these kids, and they’re not doing anything commensurate on the other side.

Now, the U.S. attorney could have stepped in, and he could have said, “Hey, wait a minute,” — he could have used, if nothing else, the power of his voice to say this is a very disproportionate use of state power. It’s probably a racist use of state power. And he could have had a large impact in stopping it. Instead, he did nothing.

AMY GOODMAN: Will you be calling the LaSalle Parish District Attorney Reed Walters to testify, the one who, after the nooses were hung and the kids protested under the tree, came with police and said to the kids, “I can wipe out your lives with the stroke of a pen”?

REP. JERROLD NADLER: We are considering that. I cannot say yet whether we will or not.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much being with us, New York Congressmember Jerrold Nadler, speaking to us from the Capitol Rotunda.

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