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BUSH RESTRICTING TRAVEL RIGHTS OF OVER 100,000 U.S. CITIZENS
By Sherwood Ross
The freedom to travel of more than 100,000 Americans placed on “watch” and “no fly” lists is being restricted by the Bush-Cheney regime.
Citizens who have done no more than criticize the president are being banned from airline flights, harassed at airports’, strip searched, roughed up and even imprisoned, feminist author and political activist Naomi Wolf reports in her new book, “The End of America.”(Chelsea Green Publishing)
“Making it more difficult for people out of favor with the state to travel back and forth across borders is a classic part of the fascist playbook,” Wolf says. She noticed starting in 2002 that “almost every time I sought to board a domestic airline flight, I was called aside by the Transportation Security Administration(TSA) and given a more thorough search.”
During one preboarding search, a TSA agent told her “You’re on the list” and Wolf learned it is not a list of suspected terrorists but of journalists, academics, activists, and politicians “who have criticized the White House.”
Some of this hassling has made headlines, such as when Senator Edward Kennedy was detained five times in East Coast airports in March, 2004, suggesting no person, however prominent, is safe from Bush nastiness. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia has also been mistreated. And it can be nasty. Robert Johnson, an American citizen, described the “humiliation factor” he endured:
“I had to take off my pants. I had to take off my sneakers, then I had to take off my socks. I was treated like a criminal,” Wolf quotes him as saying. And it gets worse than that. Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela’s foreign minister, said he was detained at Kennedy airport by officers who “threatened and shoved” him. And that was mild. Maher Arar, a Canadian software consultant was detained at Kennedy and “rendered” to Syria where he was imprisoned for more than a year by goons that beat him with a heavy metal cable.
After the Canadian furor over Arar’s illegal kidnapping and torture, he was eventually released as he had zero ties to terrorists. Yet the Bush gang refused to concede error; refused to provide documents or witnesses to Canadian investigators; and claimed last January it had “secret information” that justified keeping Arar on the watch list, Wolf noted.
Again, Chaplain James Yee, an American citizen born in New Jersey who had converted to Islam and had the Christian compassion to call for better treatment of Guantanamo prisoners, was nabbed in Sept., 2003 on suspicion of “espionage and possibly treason” and flung into the Naval brig at Charleston, S.C., where he was manacled, put in solitary for 76 days, forbidden mail and family visits, demonized in the media and warned he could face execution. Wolf writes, “Within six months, the U.S. government had dropped all criminal charges against Yee,” claiming it did so to avoid making sensitive evidence public, not because the chaplain was innocent.
Over and again, the Bush gang claims it can prove terrible crimes about suspects but, like the men imprisoned at Guantanamo, it repeatedly turns out to have “conspiracy” zilch in its briefcase rather than hard proof of actual misdeeds. Yet it goes on punishing hundreds of suspects with solitary confinement and worse without ever bringing them to trial. Globally, the number of such detainees is in the tens of thousands. Stalin would have understood.
Apparently, favorite targets of the Bush tyranny are peace activists like Jan Adams and Rebecca Gordon, detained at the San Francisco airport; a political leader such as Nancy Oden, of the Green Party, prevented from flying from Maine to Chicago; King Downing and David Fathi, both of the American Civil Liberties Union and both detained (proves ACLU’s case about Bush, eh what?); and Constitutional scholar Walter F. Murphy, of Princeton University, who had attacked the illegalities of the Bush regime. He was put on notice his luggage would be ransacked.
“When you are physically detained by armed agents because of something you said or wrote, it has an impact,” Wolf writes. “…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.”
Wolf traces the “watch list” back to a 2003 directive from Bush to his intelligence agencies to identify people “thought to have terrorist intentions or contacts.” After the list was given to the airlines, CBS-TV’s 60 Minutes got a copy. The list was 540 pages long and there were 75,000 names on it of people to be taken aside for extra screening.
The more stringent “no fly” list has 45,000 names on it, Wolf reports. Prior to 9/11, the list had just 16 names, but 44,984 suspects were quickly manufactured to justify the creation of the vast airport security apparatus at God knows what cost to American taxpayers.
One ludicrous “no fly” story concerns John Graham, president of the nonprofit Giraffe Heroes Project, an organization that honors people who stick their necks out. A former government careerist who served in Viet Nam, Graham is an inspired speaker that receives standing ovations from groups such as West Point cadets, yet is kept from flying from his Langley, Wash., base by the National Security Agency. NSA won’t tell him why, either. Maybe they have “secret” information on him, too.
Author Wolf notes that dictatorships from Hitler’s Germany to Pinochet’s Chile have employed arbitrary arrests to harass critics. And Bush’s airport detention policies are more of the same. As Wolf writes, “being free means that you can’t be detained arbitrarily.” Somebody ring the fire bell!
(Sherwood Ross is a Miami, FL-based writer who has worked in the civil rights movement, and for major dailies and wire services. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org)