Friday, July 09, 2004

At Last

Andrew Sullivan describes the difficulties of journalists and tourists visiting America due to the new Homeland Security Rules. There's no denying that new visa rules, machine-readable passport requirements and the fingerprinting requirement have made casual travel to the United States far harder even for citizens of First World allied countries. The arbitrary nature of law and its enforcement will ensure that some 'guilty' persons will be considered technically innocent while 'innocent' persons will be punished as if guilty. A UPI story describes how freed Guantanamo Bay prisoners are back killing Americans, a case where substantive guilt is trumped by technical innocence.

Several detainees released by the U.S. military from the detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have rejoined their former comrades-in-arms and taken part in fresh attacks on American troops, according to Defense Department officials and a senior Republican lawmaker.

And in case the journalists think they have it rough, consider the Cuevas family, who entered the US on a tourist visa in 1985 with their three small children and never left until they were recently deported, having in the interim built up a life without obtaining permanent residence under the various amnesties for essentially technical reasons.

But to the US Department of Homeland Security, this was an "all-illegal alien family" and a three month extension was all they could get. On June 30, they boarded a Philippine Airlines flight back to a country that the Cuevas kids barely remember.

Of course, America is at war, though not everyone, not even in Washington and certainly not in foreign capitals, seems to think so. Tom Ridge just announced that the Al Qaeda were planning a major terrorist attack on American soil before the November elections.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A plot to carry out a large-scale terror attack against the United States in the near future is being directed by Osama bin Laden and other top al Qaeda members, senior intelligence officials said Thursday. Bin Laden and his top lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahiri, are overseeing the attack plans from their remote hideouts somewhere along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, according to senior intelligence officials.

"This type of plotting, this type of operational activity, is being done with the direct direction and authorization of that senior leadership," said one official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Arrests of terror suspects in Europe and the Middle East resulted in the new warning, said Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge.

And since "we lack precise knowledge about time, place and method of attack," despite certain indications, everyone including foreign journalists and the Cuevas family, who in other times might have been cut some slack, will get the chop. The public will continue to hear about innocent Australian magazine journalists being handcuffed because a database search showed they left the US a day after their visa expired twenty years ago and about Norwegian grandmothers being closely searched -- and it will all be true -- but it is useless to expect things to get better until the enemy is beaten. If anything, security measures will become more comprehensive and intrusive as procedures now on the drawing board reach implementation.

But the singular tragedy is that the day 'when the enemy is beaten' is one which special interests, each for their own reasons, are prepared to postpone indefinitely. Belmont Club readers have suggested that the Supreme Court ruling granting full procedural protection to terrorist prisoners of war may result in more human rights violations than it prevents as men in the field become more reluctant to accept surrenders or render captives instead to Egyptian and Iraqi interrogators. Similarly Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria and parts of Iraq like Falluja have been declared "off limits" for diplomatic reasons. To Strangelove's "you can't fight here. This is the War Room" is added "you can't stop these murderers. You might break the law". The Cuevas family must go in part to enshrine the right of Moussaoui to stay. Michael Moore caught the mood perfectly when he told Christopher Hitchens, "Osama should be considered innocent until proven guilty". We might be crazy; but we're not biased.

The inconveniences that Andrew Sullivan describes will grow worse rather than better. In the 19th century it was possible to speak of a "world without passports". Liners departing for Europe in the 1930s allowed guests to party aboard until shortly before sailing. In the 1950s well-wishers could accompany airline passengers right up to the boarding ramps at many airports. In the 1990s children would sometimes be taken to the cockpit to delight in the dials and levers which festooned the control panel. No more. One day people will tell their incredulous children that they once traveled as tourists.

Here, in a high ceilinged room lit from behind by frosted glass panels I can from my workstation remotely roam the company offices on five continents, writing code, deploying assemblies and doing everything a wired early 21st century man should do. In my heart I know that the traveler's via dolorosa and the Cuevas family heartaches are just a business opportunity. That there should be a buck in there somewhere; that doubtless there is. But in more quiet moments, I will remember the hills of Southeast Asia and strangely scented cities in Africa and know that whatever the bottom line says, the buck will never be worth it. Let's finish the job and be free again.