18/03/04 Does passenger screening system target dissenters? By Bill Fletcher Jr.
Originally published March 18, 2004 www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bal-op.screening18mar18,0,6153832.story?coll=bal-oped-headlines

I WAS THERE when it happened. Our fact-finding group from TransAfrica Forum had just returned from Venezuela and was waiting for our baggage to be unloaded from the plane at the Miami International Airport. We had cleared immigration with no problem and were almost ready for connecting flights after a grueling weeklong tour.

After a significant wait, our bags eventually started to arrive on the carousel. But nothing came for Danny Glover.

The actor, known for his roles in the Lethal Weapon films, is also a human rights activist. As chair of TransAfrica Forum's board, he was a member of our Venezuela delegation. When his things finally arrived, we immediately noticed that two of his boxes had been opened by U.S. Customs officials. They were damaged and crisscrossed with green tape. He shrugged his shoulders and said, "This has been happening to me every time I return from overseas."

On each of his four most recent trips abroad, he has endured intrusive searches or extra scrutiny by Customs.

As we pushed for answers, an airline representative confirmed that Customs had indeed gone through Mr. Glover's items. Is there evidence that he is a smuggler of contraband? A security risk? An illegal immigrant? Is there any reason to suggest that his activities should be scrutinized?

For some unknown reason he has been flagged.

Mr. Glover's experience is not unique. But it does raise some serious questions about the Bush administration's approach to homeland security. It also trains a spotlight on the administration's proposed color-coded watch list that would single out passengers targeted as alleged security risks.

The Bush administration is attempting to resurrect provisions of its aborted Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System II (CAPPS II) proposal. This system would run checks on passengers using unknown criteria and accessing unspecified databases. The objective would be to establish the threat level of each passenger. This secret classification system would judge passengers without providing them with the ability to rebut allegations.

What if there are technical mistakes or malice in allegations made against someone?

Could someone be banned permanently from air travel?

These are the sorts of questions that need to be answered prior to the implementation of any such system. If they are not answered adequately, the system will result in an infringement of our civil liberties.

CAPPS II is one further step in the direction of stifling opponents, critics and those viewed as potential critics. We have faced more than two years of increased domestic surveillance, the imprisonment of immigrants often under dubious circumstances and the creation of the internationally unrecognized term "enemy combatant," which is used to explain and justify the incarceration of alleged terrorists.

Danny Glover is no threat to national security.

He is an outspoken opponent of this administration's policies and one of a growing number of celebrities – echoing the concerns of regular citizens– who have been especially critical of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

He has openly suggested that a different course should be followed to address the Middle East conflict. He challenged the administration's now-hollow allegation that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction that posed a grave threat. For this, at least in some quarters, Mr. Glover and others have had their patriotism questioned.

Against that backdrop, Mr. Glover's repeated encounters with Customs smacks of political retribution for dissent.

As Mr. Glover's experience shows, it doesn't matter how famous you are– President Bush can still label you a threat.

Bill Fletcher Jr. is president of TransAfrica Forum, a Washington-based nonprofit center.

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