Tuesday, June 08, 2004

When you next go to the US…

…try to make sure it’s in about twenty years or so. By then, hopefully most of the Orwellian laws which currently sit astride your personal freedoms will have disappeared.

A British journalist, Elena Lappin, was strip–searched and imprisoned for more than 24 hours before being deported — for, as MetaFilter puts it, ‘the crime of not knowing about a never enforced 1952 law requiring “special” journalist visas’. A few grabs from her story, which was the first link above:

The Patriot Act, introduced 45 days after 9/11, contains a chapter on Protecting The Border […] One of its innovations was to revive a law that had been dormant since 1952, requiring journalists to apply for a special visa, known as I–visa, when visiting the US for professional reasons.

“You came here as a journalist, and you don’t have a journalist’s visa.” I had never heard of it. […] I requested a glass of water, which the interrogating officer brought me himself. He was a gentle, intelligent interrogator: the interview lasted several hours and consisted of a complete appraisal of my life, past and present, personal and professional. He needed information as diverse as my parents’ names, the fee I would be paid for the article I was working on […]

“How dare you treat an American officer with disrespect?” he shouted back, indignantly. “Believe me, we have treated you with much more respect than other people. You should go to places like Iran, you’d see a big difference.” The irony is that it is only “countries like Iran” (for example, Cuba, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe) that have a visa requirement for journalists. It is unheard of in open societies, and, in spite of now being enforced in the US, is still so obscure that most journalists are not familiar with it. Thirteen foreign journalists were detained and deported from the US last year, 12 of them from LAX.

This poor woman wasn’t simply told she couldn’t stay and put on the next flight home. She was caught up in a web of officialdom (increasingly applied to peaceful journalists in the US) which chose to flaunt its power for no other reason than…

Than what? I honestly don’t know what to write to finish that sentence. It baffles me. Transport security? Is that being handled well? Is that why they show so much… caution? Not on your life. Is it to combat terrorism? The National Post doesn’t seem to think so.

Oh, hang on, I know! Under current rules, yes, rules which apply to everyone (apart from bad nations – the UK is officially counted as Good) entering the US, you can enter ‘for business or pleasure’ without a visa for a few months. That rule suddenly doesn’t apply to journalists — lying deceitful harmful terrorist scumbags that they are.

I want a reason for that distinction. I want Colin Powell or Tom Ridge to stand up in front of the Press, and the foreign citizens the Press exists to serve, in a fortnight’s time, and give a goddamn fucking REASON. (Although an apology and a withdrawal of these absurdities as quick as possible would be the decent thing to do, really, wouldn’t it?)

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