Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Arbitrarily Detain and Release Citizens (1)

This is the 6th of 10 steps to destroy a democracy as discussed in Naomi Wolf's The End of America: A Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot. The chapter (Nr 7) is divided into 3 parts, the first one being summarized here and equipped with links, additional information and some neutral remarks (discussion follows in later posts).

Wolf starts the theme with talking about her own experiences at U.S. airports:

“In 2002, I began to notice that almost every time I sought to board a domestic airline flight, I was called aside by the Transportation Security Administration and given a more thorough search. When this was happening on nine flights out of ten, I asked the officials about the special search. They told me that the search was due to the quadruple 'S' that routinely came up on my boarding pass.
There are several reasons why one might receive a quadruple 'S' on one's boarding pass if one doesn't fit a terrorist profile: buying a ticket at the last minute, for instance, or paying in cash. But those circumstances didn't apply to me. I kept asking, but not getting real answers.
This stepped-up search became so routine as I traveled that companions who were flying with me began to simply say, "I'll meet you at the gate," even before we got through the security line.
On yet another preboarding search, I asked yet again. The TSA agent searching me, a young woman, said pleasantly, "You're on the list."
"The list?" I asked. "What list?" Her supervisor abruptly ended our exchange, took over from her, and then moved me on.”

The psychological effect of the action – even if performed on a respectable citizen – is one of feeling small, vulnerable and intimidation face to face with the authorities:

“When you are physically detained by armed agents because of something that you said or wrote, it has an impact. On the one hand, during these heightened searches of my luggage, I knew I was a very small fish in a very big pond. On the other hand, you get it right away that the state is tracking your journeys, can redirect you physically, and can have armed men and women, who may or may not answer your questions, search and release you.”

Some of Wolf's further examples of persons stopped at U.S. airports for being on the No-Fly-List:

Washington Post: “Hundreds Report Watch-List Trials

“Jan Adams and Rebecca Gordon, American peace activists, tried to check in at the San Francisco airport for a trip to Boston in August 2002. Airport personnel who said that these middle-aged women were on the "master list" called the police and notified the FBI. At least twenty other peace activists are confirmed to be on the list: A 74-year-old Catholic nun who works for peace was detained in Milwaukee; Nancy Oden, a leader of the Green Party, was prevented from flying from Maine to Chicago.” [Wolf's examples from here].

“Free speech advocates are on the list: King Downing of the ACLU was detained in the Boston airport in 2003. David Fathi, also of the ACLU, was detained as well. Scholars who defend the Constitution are on the list: in 2007, Professor Walter F. Murphy, emeritus of Princeton, one of the nation's foremost Constitutional scholars, who had recently spoken critically of Bush's assault on the Constitution, was detained for being on a "watch list." A TSA official confirmed informally that it was probably because Murphy had criticized the President and warned him that his luggage would be ransacked.”

Further examples:
Members/staff of foreign government or international regulatory body

Since the No-Fly List contains only names and some meager additional data like birth dates, it is not surprising that among the “stopped” passengers there were children, nuns or such having a garden name like 'Robert Johnson' (used by some alleged terror suspect). The list also contained the names of dead persons, including the majority of the alleged 9/11 hijackers and Saddam Hussein. As a highlight (after the release of Wolf's book, Nelson Mandela found his name on the list.

Trouble at the airport is one thing. Wolf goes on by mentioning fears of future misuse this kind of secret lists as for instance with job applications. Heavier implications follow if people are arrested based on this list – or even tortured. Wolf mentions Canadian citizen Maher Arar, who was arrested 2002 at the Kennedy Airport and, after two weeks, deported to Syria (remember Robert Baer!) where he was kept for more than a year and tortured.

“The Canadian government pursued a two-year investigation and concluded that it had all been a terrible mistake -- Arar actually had no ties to terrorists whatsoever. Canadians were so appalled by this miscarriage of justice that the head of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police resigned. After he was released with his government's help, Arar, emboldened perhaps by living in a working North American democracy, sued the U.S. government.
The Bush administration refused to concede that it had been wrong; refused to provide documents or witnesses to the Canadian investigators; and finally announced in January 2007 that they had "secret information" that justified keeping Arar on the list.”

Click here to learn details from Mr. Arar's website.

As a case of an American citizen being subject to an intense investigation the severe case of army chaplain James Y. Yee is summarized by Wolf. Yee was finally released and all accusations were dropped.

Wolf also mentions that

“ The United States has recently been refusing visas to various respected Muslim scholars from universities such as Oxford -- scholars with no ties whatsoever to terrorists -- because they have been critical of U.S. policy. This has happened before in America: in the 1950s the FBI confiscated the passports of intellectuals and journalists who had been critical of anticommunist witch hunts.”

Wolf does not give an example for Muslim scientists being refused visa for criticizing the U.S. government. But she goes on by quoting from William L. Shirer's Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent, 1934-1941 on how the Nazis performed an airport search. She mentions that about 36% of all Germans living under the Nazi regime said that they had been arrested, interrogated, and released. A similar tactics applied by Pinochet in Chile's slums:

“Every so often the military would enter a slum, arrest people in random sweeps, keep them behind bars briefly, and then let them go. The only real reason was to intimidate the population.”

Naomi Wolf finally puts forward the following – from her point of view - rather rhetorical question:

“Are the cases we hear of Americans being caught up in detention, searches, and releases merely Homeland Security or TSA zealotry? Or are the stories effective PR about a new reality? Fascist propagandists target individuals, detain and release them, and then publicize the stories. Could all these [mentioned above] be victims not of simple clumsiness but, rather, examples of the fact that perfectly ordinary Americans can now get entangled in the increasingly punitive apparatus of the state?”
(end of summary)

While in the U.S. spooky TSA and other governmental authorities are still on their way to “strengthening America”, the European Court of Human Rights is already back-paddling: see “Stop and search powers illegal, European court rules. Judges in Strasbourg say UK powers under Terrorism Act 2000 violate convention on human rights.


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