This month, Florida Congressman Alan Grayson had planned to hold a hearing in Washington, D.C. featuring some experts on—and victims of—drone strikes overseas. As part of that effort, Grayson invited a well-known Pakistani human-rights lawyer named Shahzad Akbar, who represents approximately 125 drone-strike victims. The 67 year-old mother of one of his clients, for example, was killed while tending cows in a strike that appeared to be targeted, but at the wrong person. ("Clearly," Akbar told reporters, "there was an error.")
Before November 2010, when the lawyer started working with drone strike victims, he never had any trouble getting visas to the United States — they came through in a matter of days and permitted him multiple entries...
The first time Mr. Akbar applied for a U.S. visa after he began his drone work, the process took more than a year, rather than the usual few days. This time, Mr Akbar told me on Saturday from Islamabad, he was taken into a back room at the U.S. consulate, and told by the head of the visa section that the diplomatic corps had nothing against him, but that his application had been blocked by officials in Washington, "because of your history with the U.S."
New York magazine details a few others who've been suspiciously detained or harassed, perhaps because of their criticism of—or affiliation with critics of—militarism and state surveillance. There's David Miranda, the Brazilian partner of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, who was held by UK officials for nine hours at an airport under an anti-terrorism statute. (Authorities accuse him of carrying tens of thousands of pages of digitized, encrypted, and highly classified documents.) And Baraa Shibani, a Yemeni human-rights activist recently detained at a British airport for his work with a London-based charity called Reprieve:
... he [a border agent] suggested he had detained me not merely because I was from Yemen, but also because of Reprieve's work investigating and criticising the efficacy of US drone strikes in my country.
A telling exchange followed: "So," he asked, "does your organisation have anything to do with terrorism in Yemen?"
I replied, "My organisation addresses counter-terrorism abuses inside the country."
"Exactly!" He said. "Why doesn't your organisation do something about the terrorism that happens in your country, instead of focusing on the counter-terrorism abuses?"
What could I reply? Of course I oppose terrorism. But I also oppose the secret air war in my country...
But when border agents and federal officials admit that people are being prevented from entering the US because of activities that would, for a US citizen, be constitutionally protected, it signals a troubling new era of political profiling.
“Every time a cop confronts me it results in a fine,” said Katie Nelson, who filed the suit. “The accusations aren’t based on nothing, we wouldn’t be where we are in the lawsuit if we didn’t have evidence.”
The eight-page lawsuit seeks $24,000 in damages over what Nelson terms “political profiling.” She alleges police catcalled her from squad cars, detained her without reason, and gave her more than 20 tickets for infractions ranging from jaywalking to spitting in a public place. The tickets amount to almost $7,000 in fines.
If she wins the lawsuit, that could open a whole new way to look at—and grapple with—politically motivated surveillance and harassment.