Shostack + Friends Blog Archive


Lowering Ourselves

It occurs to me that when a senior US governement lawyer says:

foreign citizens passing through American airports have almost no rights. At most, Mary Mason told a hearing in Brooklyn, N.Y., passengers would have the right not to be subjected to “gross physical abuse.”

that they are in direct contradiction to the US Constitution

Read Chris Beck’s “CBC News: Flyers passing through U.S. have few rights, Arar judge told” for an analysis of how.

I remember when I was in Tel Aviv, a strike shut down the airport. Our travel agent found us tickets from Amman to London to Boston. It was only when we had the tickets in hand that we saw a stop in ‘DAM.’ It turns out DAM is Damascus, Syria. One of our party was Israeli. We joked that it would be no problem: they’d take him off the plane, torture him for a month, and then let him go. No problem. We changed the tickets, because we didn’t want to deal with crazy Syrian officials while in a transit lounge.

It’s quite sad that the US is treating people in a way that we feared Syria might. There’s no moral justification for forcing someone to enter the US, then denying they’re legally in the US, while denying them the protection of law against the actions of the government:

If passengers are deemed to be inadmissible, they have no constitutional rights even if later taken to an American prison. Mason told Judge David Trager that’s because they are deemed to be still outside the U.S., from a legal point of view.

“Someone who’s inadmissible is in the same category as the people that the CIA snatches and grabs from other countries,” said Barbara Olshansky, a lawyer for the U.S.-based Center for Constitutional Rights, which is suing a number of U.S. officials on Arar’s behalf.

“You are fair game for however executive branch wants to treat you.”

Mason said the interpretation means travellers can be detained without charge, denied the right to consult a lawyer, and even refused necessities such as food and sleep.

To put it another way, once you give up the rule of law, as Ms. Mason has, it becomes challenging to explain how the actions of the United States differ from those of a kidnapper.

But beyond sad, this helps derail any hope we have left of being a positive force in the world. How can we tell the Iraqis that they should take our advice about how to build a society when we behave like this?

One comment on "Lowering Ourselves"

  • Anonymous says:

    Tricky 🙂 I guess it starts when more people ask the same question. It finishes when enough people use their vote to criticise it.
    I leave the definition of “enough” as an exercise for the reader.

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