Friday, October 19, 2007

Lawmakers Apologize to Former Detainee

Lawmakers apologized yesterday to a Canadian engineer for his seizure by U.S. officials who took him to Syria, where the man says he was tortured in what he called an "immoral" American anti-terrorism program called rendition.

Maher Arar, 37, appeared before a joint hearing of House subcommittees by video, because he is still on a U.S. government watch list.

"Let me personally give you what our government has not: an apology," said Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.) as he opened the hearing. "Let me apologize to you and the Canadian people for our government's role in a mistake."

Arar said he was grateful for the lawmakers' apologies but hoped the U.S. government would eventually apologize to him officially.

"Let me be clear: I am not a terrorist, I am not a member of al-Qaeda or any terror group. I am a father, a husband and an engineer. I am also a victim of the immoral practice of extraordinary rendition," he said.

The Canadian government has apologized to Arar for its role in the case and agreed to pay him almost $10 million in compensation. The Bush administration has not apologized.

Democrats Protest HHS Appointment

In two letters, 19 senators and seven House members urged Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt to withdraw the appointment of a critic of birth control to head the department's family planning programs.

The lawmakers, all Democrats, called Susan Orr a poor choice to be acting deputy assistant secretary for population affairs, a job in which she will oversee $283 million in annual grants to provide low-income families with contraceptive services, family planning counseling and health screenings.

"We believe the appointment of Dr. Orr is yet another misguided decision by an administration that is intent on undermining women's health," the House members wrote.

Orr, a child welfare expert and former Family Research Council official who has served in the Bush and Clinton administrations, applauded a Bush effort in 2001 to stop requiring federal employee health insurance plans to cover a wide range of birth control, saying "fertility is not a disease."

This week an HHS spokesman called Orr "highly qualified" to fill the post until the position is filled permanently.

Another TB Patient Crosses Borders

For the second time this year, the government has failed to stop a man infected with a dangerous strain of tuberculosis from traveling in and out of the United States.

This example is significant, because it exposes a potential new weakness: U.S. reliance on foreign medical record-keeping.

U.S. officials this spring were unable to catch a Mexican man infected with the disease because the doctor treating the man did not know his real name, according to a government official who was briefed on the incident but requested anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss it publicly.

In May, an Atlanta lawyer with the disease was able to travel internationally despite warnings from health officials.

Homeland Security officials have confirmed that the Mexican national is living in his home in Juarez.

-- From Staff Reports and News Services

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