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  Article & Essay: Protecting America from Foreign Writers

Prominent foreign writers were stopped at U.S. borders, even imprisoned, and then deported because of the Homeland Security and Patriot Acts.
By Frederick Sweet

Foreign journalists and novelists have been turned away from U.S. borders by an increasingly repressive American government bureaucracy. Since January 2001, and particularly since the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the U.S., our ideologically driven president, George W. Bush, has led his attorney general John Ashcroft and a too-willing Republican-dominated Congress to deny members of the foreign press freedom of entry into America.

Indeed, the word has gotten around “old” and “new” Europe that America is no longer the land of the free. In the practical sense, Bush and his accomplices achieved what Al Qaeda’s terrorists, Osama bin Laden, and yes, even that overblown bogeyman, Saddam Hussein, could never have dreamt of: sucking the freedom out of America. Bush has accomplished this by spreading fear and passing one law after another restricting personal freedom in the false promise of increasing the security of America’s homeland.

For example, one week before I left Budapest to visit Rome, two Hungarian college-aged youths told me they’d be afraid to visit America. In the 1970s, their parents had jumped at the chance to leave from behind the Iron Curtain to visit “America.” But things have changed. The youths didn’t like the idea of having to be “fingerprinted, photographed and documented like criminals” by the U.S. State Department. Bush’s U.S. has come to be regarded as a police state.

Now, all over Rome there are anti-Bush posters and stickers on walls and kiosks. Also, draped from windows in rich and poor neighborhoods alike are colorful flags emblazoned with the simple, one-word message “Pace [Peace],” to protest Bush’s war on Iraq. The United States has replaced the warlike Soviet Union as the nation to be most feared.

Last week, on July 13th, I paid two Euros (about $2.50) for a copy of the twenty-page Herald Tribune (International Edition) in Rome, Italy. Catching my eye was the headline, “Keeping America Safe from Foreign Writers.”

British Journalist Harassed, Detained, Deported

Veteran British journalist Elena Lappin, who works for The Guardian, reported in the July 13th Tribune how she had been stopped and then held in an American prison after landing at the Los Angeles International Airport last May.

Lappin had been accustomed to flashing her press credentials and British passport at LAX as she raced to her assignment from England. Lappin was unaware that now foreign journalists are required to obtain special “I” [information] visas to visit the U.S. But she certainly hadn’t expected to be questioned harshly and then imprisoned for 36 hours before being deported. Lappin writes that other innocent, prominent foreign writers have shared her fate because of America’s new so-called Homeland Security laws.

By the U.S. requiring foreign journalists and writers to obtain an “I” visa (or an official waiver), America is now in the same league with Iran, North Korea, and Cuba. In these police states, the regimes treat reporters and independent writers as dangerous subversives, disseminators of uncomfortable truths. In stark contrast, American journalists working abroad in free countries are not monitored, as are their counterparts in today’s U.S.

The Bush administration accelerated these restrictions in June 2003. Lappin reports that the State Department cabled its diplomatic and consular posts, urging them to note the “increasing number” of journalists being denied entry into the U.S. “Aliens coming to practice journalism are not eligible on the visa waver program or a business visa.” Journalists who try to do so “are subject to removal [deportation].”

This approach is that of a police state enforcing its repressive, ideology-driven laws, an approach common in North Korea, Cuba, Iran, and earlier (if not still) in Iraq. Overseas, no doubt the U.S. embassies and consulates represent their informational notices describing the restrictive policy as a means of letting visa applicants know of the new rules so that later on they can avoid detention and expulsion at LAX or New York’s Kennedy Airport.

Novelist Gets Bum’s Rush from U.S.

The British novelist Ian McEwan was denied entry into Seattle several months ago where 2,500 of his fans had assembled to hear him speak. He had tried to reach Seattle through Canada after his visit there. But U.S. immigration officials at the Vancouver Canadian airport turned him back. They explained that McEwan’s $5,000 speaker’s fee was too high for him to have his visa waiver approved in the new program.

Several months earlier, McEwan had been invited to lunch by British Prime Minister Tony Blair at Number 10 Downing Street. This had been at the request of first lady Laura Bush, a great fan of the novelist, while the Bushes visited England last fall. Now detained by U.S. Immigration in Vancouver, McEwan contacted his admirers in Washington. With the influence of members of Congress, lawyers, diplomats, and journalists, the Immigration officials relented and allowed McEwan’s travel to Seattle.

Luckily for McEwan, his conflict with U.S. Immigration happened on Canadian soil, sparing him a 36-hour detention, then deportation, had he first been stopped in Seattle. Later, McEwan told journalists that U.S. Immigration officials had told him, “We don’t want to let you in; we don’t think you should come in. But you have powerful allies [in Washington] and we don’t like the publicity.”

Later that day, McEwan began his nearly cancelled talk in Seattle by wryly thanking the Department of Homeland Security “for protecting the American public from British novelists.”

Lappin reported that today McEwan says, “I think what has happened is that this department [of Homeland Security] has been spawned in short order and is pumped up with a mission. But the people on the ground have not been properly informed about the legislation by Washington, and tend to make up the rules on the spot. It suggests the same gung-ho carelessness that typified the post-invasion effort in Iraq. I’m not immune to the argument that you need Homeland Security to counter terrorists; America has a lot of enemies, more now than ever. But this sort of thing increases its isolation.”

Resurrecting McCarthyism

The problems that British journalist Lappin and novelist McEwan recently ran into have their origins in the McCarthy era. The so-called “I” visa is derived from the 1952 McCarran-Walter Act.

Once, Senator Pat McCarran boasted that his act was an effective screen against Communist subversives. Yet opposition to this purportedly anti-Communist law had been fierce. It had been called “an affront to the American people” by the National Council of Churches, and President Harry S. Truman, who vetoed the act but was overridden by Congress, said that this national-origins quota system was reminiscent of the Nazi master-race philosophy.

In 1991, The New York Times reported that the State Department “maintains a list of hundreds of thousands of aliens who are considered to have dangerous beliefs or intentions and ought to be kept out of the country.”

Much of the McCarran-Walter Act was revived post-9/11 by the U.S Patriot Act. Anti-terrorism measures are now grotesquely placed in a bizarre ideological context with anti-Communist laws that had supported the control and removal of undesirable aliens in the McCarthy era.

With the end of the Cold War and the disappearance of the Soviet Union, dissident writers seemed to have disappeared from the public sphere. But now the Bush administration has made journalists like Lappin into the new subversives, even though they don’t promote ideological or other agendas.

In the name of protecting Americans from terrorists, Bush, Dick Cheney, John Ashcroft, and Congress have taken away many American freedoms. An example of this suppression is the closing of U.S. borders to foreign writers, as had been done during the Communist witch-hunts of the 1950s.

“Security” Breach

In closing, I must report an overseas breach in security. Everyone who travels by air in America knows that after passing through airport security in the U.S., passengers are immersed in a plastic, weapons-free pre-boarding zone. At snack bars or in airplanes from Los Angeles to St. Louis, and from Chicago to New York, all eating utensils are plastic. Why is that? Because officials decided that the 9/11 terrorists used box cutters to overpower the crew of the hijacked airplanes.

To prevent such a thing from ever happening again, Americans now dine with plastic. But not so in the more level headed “old” and “new” Europe. From Holland to Italy to Hungary, in ubiquitous Sbarros pizza joints and fancy dining lounges and fast food outlets all over the place--and even on airplanes--Europeans dine with perfectly normal stainless steel knives, forks, and spoons. These weapons of mass destruction are freely available to anyone--after passing through airport security, often within several yards of the boarding docks.

Be that as it may, not a single terrorist attack has originated from European airports either before or after 9/11. Moreover, with the liberalization of international travel within the expanded European Union, “foreign” journalists and writers speedily pass through passport checkpoints, unlike in the increasingly freedom-starved America.

How free or secure is Bush’s America?

Frederick Sweet is Professor of Reproductive Biology in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. You can email your comments to Fred@interventionmag.com

Posted Monday, July 19, 2004


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