Be Ready to Be Detained, by Col. Ann Wright
FBI Provides Arrest Records of Peace Activists to Immigration of Other Countries—Be Ready to Be Detained
By US Army Reserves Colonel and former US Diplomat Ann Wright
On August 19 I flew to Ottawa, Canada to speak at alternative events during the third “Security and Prosperity Partnership” conference between George Bush, Stephen Harper and Felipe Calderon, heads of state of the US, Canada and Mexico. Instead of meeting with 17 US war resisters who now live in Canada and later participating in the press conference and panel on the adverse consequences of the “Partnership” between governments and corporations on security (no-fly lists, fingerprinting, sharing of security data, environmental, bulk water sales, energy, workers rights and regulatory issues among many other), I spent almost four hours detained by Canadian immigration in the Ottawa international airport-- thanks to the long reach of the FBI.
It all began when an immigration official who was checking my passport noticed a photo identification band on my right wrist and asked if I had recently been released from the hospital. I said no, it was a peaceful, non-violent protest in the United States. I said I had paid a fine along with 46 others arrested for occupying Congressman John Conyers’ office and I now used the wrist bracelet as a symbol of the responsibility of citizens to hold accountable its Congress.
The immigration officer shook his head and then escorted me to a secondary screening area where another officer typed my name into a computer that accessed the US National Criminal Information Center’s (NCIC) computerized data that contains the criminal records of US citizens. Despite international travel to England, Italy, Jordan, Syria, Cuba and twice to Canada in the past two years since my first arrest in September, 2005, this was the first time I have joined the ranks of thousands of persons each day who are subjected to secondary screening around the world.
After looking intently at the computer screen, the officer raised one eyebrow, turned to me and asked: “Have you been arrested more than once?” I replied, “Yes, but all for peaceful, non-violent protests against an illegal war, all misdemeanors.” The officer said “There are six arrests on your record.” She then said that Canada had no category called misdemeanors—anything on NCIC was considered by the Canadian Immigration as criminal actions, deportable offenses.
Quickly I was taken into a third room where another officer took over an hour going through my suitcases and backpack. As I was traveling from the national Veterans for Peace conference in St. Louis, through Ottawa to speak during the visit of George Bush and on to Bush’s vacation site in Kennebunkport, Maine, I had with me many t-shirts lettered with a variety of peace and stop the war slogans including “Troops Home Now,” “Impeach Bush and Cheney,” “Arrest Bush,” “Arrest Cheney First,” “No War on Iran” and “We Will Not be Silent” in many languages. The officer took each shirt out of the suitcase, shook it open and read the slogan. She was also very interested in the books I had in my backpack, books on the US war on Iraq, torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and impeachment, among many others.
She also read every document in my notebooks of events of where I had spoken and where I am speaking in the near future. She took the DVD documentary film called “Shut up and Sing” about the run-in of the Dixie Chicks and the Bush administration and viewed parts of it. Of particular interest to the officer was the DVD sent to me by the brother of Guantanamo prisoner Omar Deshayes, a British resident (not citizen) who has been imprisoned by the Bush administration for five and a half years. Omar’s brother and mother had gone with a group of activists of which I was a member to Cuba in January, 2007 to protest the fifth year of operation of the US prison on the Guantanamo Naval Base. The British government has finally begun the processing of pressing the Bush administration for the release of all British residents. After their release to British authorities, when the British government saw the evidence against the British citizens who had been imprisoned in Guantanamo, all were released within 24 hours. The British citizens have been free for over two years.
The immigration officer asked if I knew about Omar Khadr, the only Canadian citizen imprisoned in Guantanamo. Khadr was imprisoned five and one-half years ago at age 15. He is charged with throwing a grenade at US soldiers when soldiers overran the compound where he was living in Afghanistan and killed all of his relatives in the compound. In June, 2007, five and one-half years after his imprisonment, the US military commission in Guantanamo threw out the charges. The US prosecution has appealed the decision of the commission. Unlike the British government, the Canadian government has not pressured the Bush administration to release Khadr to Canadian authorities so they can review the evidence against Khadr. I told the officer I certainly hoped the citizens of Canada would pressure the Canadian government for the release of Khadr. She was silent, but nodded her head in what appeared to me to be agreement.
After three hours, the immigration officer told me that I because I had a US “criminal” record and as Canada does not let criminals into the country, I could be put on the next flight back to the United States. I said that I found that comment quite remarkable and said that I believed that protests planned at the conference the three heads of state were attending was the reason for my detention. I told the officer that I was speaking at a press conference and on several panels and my Canadian hosts would complain strongly if I were not let into Canada.
The officer finally acknowledged that if I paid $200 I could get a 3 day temporary resident permit but in the future, if I wanted to return to Canada, I would have to apply for another temporary resident permit at a Canadian embassy. In the future, I could not cross the Canadian border unless I had a temporary resident permit when I arrived at a border crossing-- no day trips to Vancouver by just presenting my passport.
My pleas that all my arrests in the US were misdemeanors and had ended in fines and no jail time other than during processing following the arrests fell on deaf ears. No exceptions, if you are listed on the NCIC, you are considered a “criminal” by Canadian immigration and must get a special permit for entry. So I paid the $200. The officer verbally said that I was restricted to Ottawa and the protests in the town of Montebello across the Ottawa River in Quebec were off limits to me.
However, when I looked on the official permit that granted me entry into Canada, no restrictions on travel were listed on it. I have found that many times law enforcement officers attempt to control others by their statements of what one can and can not do, where one can or can not stand, statements that are not based on law, but rather, at best, on the officer’s incorrect interpretation of regulations or, at worst, their blatant attempt to bully others by merely the authority of their badge. I decided that if the government of Canada was restricting my travel to Ottawa only, the officer would have had to put the restriction in writing on the temporary permit. So, the following day, I joined thousands of protesters in Montebello.
I strongly believe the inclusion on an international criminal data base of arrests of those who disagree with the policies of the Bush administration is meant to intimidate, silence and impede travel for those who dissent and criticize the actions of the Bush administration.
Needless to say, I am requesting through the Freedom of Information Act my “file” from the FBI and formally protesting the inclusion of my arrests for peaceful, non-violent actions on an international criminal data base. I am also demanding that these arrests be expunged from international records.
I also am writing to the Canadian government to ask officials to re-evaluate its decision to accept at face value the data it is receiving from the FBI and the Bush administration.
To other activists who have been arrested, don’t be surprised if you are detained in the future.
About the Author:
Ann Wright served 29 years in the US Army (13 years on active duty and 16 years in the reserves) and retired as a Colonel. She was a US diplomat for 16 years and served in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia and Mongolia. She was on the small team that reopened the US Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan in December, 2001. She was one of three US diplomats who resigned in 1003 in opposition to the Bush administration’s war on Iraq.