by James Ridgeway / Village Voice –
WASHINGTON (December 24, 2003) –Every day the US looks more like a police state. An internal Justice Department probe, based on surveillance videos made by the government inside federal detention facilities, shows that the US harassed, beat, and kept in solitary confinement without access to family or lawyers men it picked up off the streets of New York after 9-11.
More likely than not, these men were seized on grounds that some cop or FBI agent thought they looked like Osama followers. Or that a business partner or neighbor decided he could get the man’s money or property by charging him first with theft and then telling the cops: “Oh, by the way, I think the guy is Al Qaeda,” a claim that one magistrate after another accepted as the reason to set bails so high no one but a millionaire could pay to get out.
And this doesn’t even scratch the surface of what’s been going on. Lawyers were not told the numbers of courtrooms to where their clients were being shuttled because the room locations were secret. Members of Congress, government, the press, and the judiciary knew from the very get-go that any FBI agent, acting on his or her own, could make an affidavit asserting that any individual was a suspected terrorist.
Every day, Ashcroft and Bush work the country toward something like martial law, though the administration has suffered setbacks, like last week’s rulings by two federal appellate courts in Padilla v. Rumsfeld and Gherebi v. Bush. Both of those decisions, for now at least, hamper the government’s ability to simply lock up suspects indefinitely.
But the government has other targets and other ways of dealing with them. The most recent crackdown seems to be on the foreign press-the source of much of the substantial critique of its policies.
US immigration authorities are detaining foreign correspondents on grounds they have not obtained special visas permitting them to operate here, reports the Associated Press. True, there is a law stipulating a special visa for journalists, but few have ever heard of it and it is seldom enforced. No more. No one ever told the visiting journalists it had suddenly been revived. As a result, immigration officials aren’t allowing reporters from abroad to come in under ordinary 90-day tourist visa waivers.
Peter Krobath, chief editor for the Australian movie magazine Skip, was seized and held overnight in a cold room with 45 others who landed without visas. Is he an Osama follower? A disguised fedayeen from Saddam’s clan? No. He is guilty of flying to the US to interview Ben Affleck.
Thomas Sjoerup, a photographer for the Danish paper Ekstra Bladet, had to give the American authorities fingerprints, a mug shot, and a DNA sample, and he was promptly sent back home anyway.
Six French journalists were marched across a terminal at Los Angeles International Airport in handcuffs, having had their belts and shoelaces removed. The International Press Institute, based in Vienna, along with the International Federation of Journalists, headquartered in Brussels, is protesting this treatment.
The US response? An embassy official in Vienna insisted that the government was only acting in accordance with the letter of the law.