Thursday, October 11, 2007

[wvns] Peace Activists Denied Entry to Canada

American Peace Activists Denied Entry to Canada
After Appearing on FBI Database
Friday, October 5th, 2007
http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=07/10/05/1419236


Two leading U.S. peace activists were denied entry into Canada on
Wednesday after their names appeared on an FBI criminal database that
the Canadian government is using at its borders. Ann Wright, a retired
Army colonel and former diplomat, and Medea Benjamin, co-founder of
women's peace group CODEPINK, were headed to Toronto to appear at an
antiwar event. We speak to Ann Wright about her entry denial and its
implications on civil liberties. [includes rush transcript] Two
leading U.S. peace activists were denied entry into Canada on
Wednesday after their names appeared on an FBI criminal database that
the Canadian government is using at its borders. Ann Wright, a retired
Army colonel and former diplomat, and Medea Benjamin, co-founder of
women's peace group CODEPINK, were headed to Toronto to discuss peace
and security issues at the invitation of the Toronto Stop the War
Coalition. Canadian authorities detained and questioned them for
several hours at the border crossing between Buffalo and Niagara Falls.

The two women were apparently denied entry into Canada because their
names appeared on an FBI-run international criminal database. Ann
Wright and Medea Benjamin do have nine convictions between them, but
all involving civil disobedience committed while protesting the war in
Iraq.

On Thursday, they met with immigration officials at the Canadian
embassy in Washington, D.C. and held a news conference outside. Ann
Wright joins me now from Washington. She is a retired Army colonel and
former diplomat who quit a 16-year State Department career following
the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

* Ann Wright. Retired Army colonel and former U.S. diplomat. She
was denied entry into Canada on Wednesday by Canadian Border agents.

RUSH TRANSCRIPT

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AMY GOODMAN: Two leading US peace activists were denied entry into
Canada Wednesday after their names appeared on an FBI criminal
database that the Canadian government is using at its borders. Ann
Wright, a retired Army colonel and former diplomat, and Medea
Benjamin, cofounder of women's peace group CODEPINK, were headed to
Toronto to discuss peace and security issues at the invitation of the
Toronto Stop the War Coalition. Canadian authorities detained and
questioned them for several hours at the border crossing between
Buffalo and Niagara Falls.

The two women were apparently denied entry into Canada because their
names appeared on an FBI-run international criminal database. Ann
Wright and Medea Benjamin do have nine convictions between them, but
all involving civil disobedience committed while protesting the Iraq war.

On Thursday, they met with immigration officials at the Canadian
embassy in Washington, D.C., and held a news conference outside.

Ann Wright joins me now from Washington, D.C. She's a retired Army
colonel, former diplomat, who quit a sixteen-year State Department
career following the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Welcome to
Democracy Now!, Ann.

ANN WRIGHT: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: It's good to have you with us. Explain exactly what happened.

ANN WRIGHT: Well, Medea and I had gone up to Buffalo, New York, going
across the border on the Rainbow Bridge to go on up to Toronto for a
peace conference, and we were stopped by the immigration authorities
and said that our names appeared on the National Crime Information
Center database furnished by the FBI and that we had been convicted of
offenses, and those offenses meant that we were now ineligible to
enter Canada.

AMY GOODMAN: And did they go further?

ANN WRIGHT: Well, they said, yes, in order to ever be eligible to go
to Canada, we would have to fill out a criminal rehabilitation packet,
eighteen pages worth of all of your history. We also can't have an
arrest within five years of submitting that package. So, for Medea and
myself and many other peace activists who consider civil disobedience
as a part of a technique to bring light to what's going on,
particularly on ending this war in Iraq, we can never be criminally
rehabilitated, nor do we want to be, from standing up for truth and
justice and stopping an illegal war on Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Ann, you were turned back at the border. You go back
to Washington, D.C. You meet with Canadian officials at the embassy.
What did they tell you?

ANN WRIGHT: Well, they told us that any time that the FBI puts people
on this NCIC list, they just accept it at face value, that they don't
really investigate things. And we kept saying, "Well, you ought to,
because a lot of these things appear to be going onto this list
because of political intimidation," because, indeed, the list itself
for the database says that people like foreign fugitives, people on
the ten most-wanted list or 100 most-wanted list, people that are part
of violent gangs and terrorist organizations, are supposed to go on
that NCIC list. It didn't seem like that we were a part of -- we
haven't done anything to be on the list.

And since this thing is just now -- we are the first ones that we know
of that have been formally stopped from going into Canada. In fact, it
happened to me in August, when I went up to Canada to participate in
the Security and Prosperity Partnership. I had to buy my way in, $200
for a three-day temporary resident permit. "If I'm so dangerous, why
would they even give me that permit?" I asked the immigration officer
in the Canadian embassy.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to say that we also called the Canadian border
agents, we called the Canadian embassy in Washington, we called the
Canadian consulate in New York. We got no response back. We wanted to
have them on.

But, Ann, I wanted to talk about your background. Ann Wright, you're a
retired Army colonel. You earned a Master's degree in national
security affairs from the US Naval War College in Newport, Rhode
Island, later participated in the reconstruction efforts of US
military actions in Grenada and Somalia. You went on to serve thirteen
years in active-duty in the US Army, sixteen years in the Army Reserve
at the rank of colonel. You went on to work at the State Department.
You served as Chief of Mission at the US embassies in Afghanistan,
which to voluntarily helped open, the embassy there, after the US
attacked Afghanistan in 2001, served in Sierra Leone, Micronesia,
Mongolia, Uzbekistan. You got a State Department award for heroism for
helping evacuate 2,500 people from the civil war in Sierra Leone.

Is the US government or the Canadian government -- how have they
responded to your background? And also, elaborate further on the FBI
database.

ANN WRIGHT: Well, they don't consider my background at all, that I
have had extensive experience, that the reason that I feel it is very
important for me to be protesting is that I do bring both the military
and a diplomatic background to my concerns about what's going on in
Iraq and potentially in Iran and certainly in Afghanistan, where I did
serve in December of 2001. They don't -- although I would say that the
immigration officer at the Canadian embassy found it very interesting
that I had had all of this experience, but as he said, "It really
doesn't matter to us what your background is. As long as you arrive on
that database, we really don't question it."

But what we're asking the -- we're asking Canadian members of
parliament to question whether or not their government should be --
pardon me -- just following wholesale anything the US government tells
them to do. In fact, we have a letter from Olivia Chow, one of the
members of Congress, that says in Canada, peaceful activity --
"peaceful protest is not criminal activity, despite how some US
agencies may regard it. In the future, I trust that people like Ms.
Wright and Ms. Benjamin will be welcomed into Canada based on
appropriate standards decided by the Canadian government and not by
any other foreign body."

And I think the Canadians are absolutely right. I think the Bush
administration is really pushing down the throats of a lot of
countries methods to control dissent here in the United States of
America, and those countries ought to say to the Bush administration,
"Stop this. We can determine who ought to be coming into our country
and who should not, and not based on what you think they are doing in
your country."

AMY GOODMAN: Colonel Ann Wright, I wanted to ask you about the issue
of torture, something you have protested against many times. On
Thursday, the New York Times revealed the Justice Department, under
former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, issued a series of secret
legal opinions effectively sanctioning the use of torture. These are
excerpts from the Thursday White House press briefing with Dana Perino.

REPORTER: Well, just generally, does the administration -- does
the President believe that head-slapping and simulated drowning are
necessary tactics to use against suspected terrorists to keep America
safe?

DANA PERINO: I am not going to comment on any specific alleged
techniques. It is not appropriate for me to do so. And to do so would
provide the enemy with more information for how to train against these
techniques. And so, I am going to decline to comment on those, but I
will reiterate to you once again that we do not torture. We want to
make sure that we keep this country safe.

REPORTER: In September of last year, the President told the
country about what had been a classified program of CIA prisons in
other countries around the world. At that time, he said all the
terrorists who were held -- or alleged terrorists -- who were held in
those sites were no longer there. Today, do those prisons still exist?
And are there alleged terrorists being held?

DANA PERINO: I'm not going to comment on that. If the CIA
decides to comment, I'll let them. What I can tell is that any
procedures that they use are tough, safe, necessary and lawful.

REPORTER: Is it reasonable to assume if those prisons were
closed, that the President would have deemed that something to tell
the country, and, in the absence of that, we should assume they are
still working?

DANA PERINO: No, no, that's a nice -- I'm not going to comment.

REPORTER: In a conference call in July, a senior administration
official said that they would no longer -- or wouldn't use extreme
temperatures of heat and cold. Is that true?

DANA PERINO: I don't know. I don't -- I wasn't on the -- I don't
recall.

REPORTER: I guess the point is that if the senior administration
official told us on a conference call that these methods wouldn't be
used, why won't you say whether or not head-slapping, waterboarding,
would be used?

DANA PERINO: I don't believe that I -- I'm not in a position to
be able to do that. I am not going to comment on specific techniques. […]

Now, if there were an attack on this country, all of the
questions in here would be very different. You would be asking me,
"How did you allow this to happen?" And what I am telling you is that,
within the law, we are making sure that we are doing everything we can
to prevent it from happening again.

REPORTER: But what's to stop another country from then taking
their own definition and interpretation based on the administration's --

DANA PERINO: As I understand it, under the Geneva Conventions,
every country was supposed to interpret it for themselves, and now we
have.

As I understand it, I believe that the Geneva Conventions, that
every country could interpret for themselves what those -- what that
language meant. I'm recalling that from the debate that we had in this
country from a year and a half ago.

REPORTER: Paraphrasing what the Geneva Conventions said, it said
that --

DANA PERINO: Not paraphrasing, but --

REPORTER: No, I'm --

DANA PERINO: You're going to paraphrase?

REPORTER: Yes.

DANA PERINO: OK.

REPORTER: Paraphrasing what it said, it basically says that if
there is some kind of a problem with clarity, it is supposed to be
taken to an international crimes court. So --

DANA PERINO: Which we are not going to do.

REPORTER: Why not?

DANA PERINO: I don't think it's necessary.

AMY GOODMAN: Dana Perino, White House press secretary, being grilled
by the press. Retired Army Colonel Ann Wright, you have protested
torture; your response?

ANN WRIGHT: Well, I think Dana Perino needs to have a little
counseling on how you answer these questions. What she has done is
created a lot more people who hate America. I mean, this whole issue
that we are still debating or that the administration is still doing
secret memos that show that we indeed are torturing people, I mean,
that's creating more people that hate America. The attacks that
possibly could come on America would happen exactly because of what
the Bush administration is doing.

Torture techniques don't get you any more information; it just gets
you bad information. I'm very concerned that the CIA still has this
authority to do those types of techniques that are truly torture. Our
military has been told not to do them, but many times the military and
CIA are together in same areas, and our military will start seeing
that they'll start doing the same old thing they were doing in Abu
Ghraib and Guantanamo. So Dana Perino has -- continues to muddy the
waters about torture. We should be saying we don't torture, and we
should not be torturing. It is just creating more enemies for the
United States, that we don't need to be doing this sort of thing.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Ann Wright, this weekend is the anniversary of
the US bombing of Afghanistan. You went to Afghanistan voluntarily to
reopen the mission, as you were working for the State Department. What
are your thoughts today?

ANN WRIGHT: Well, here it is almost six years later, and I would say
that we -- probably a better response would have not been the military
response. A beefed up, strong, very strong international law response
probably would have had more results on going after al-Qaeda than what
six years of, in many ways, a limited military response has done. I
think the Bush administration has been -- what has happened in
Afghanistan has really sunk the country into a big morass that's
getting deeper and deeper now. The potential for real help to the
people of Afghanistan -- I think the window of opportunity is closing
tragically very fast.

AMY GOODMAN: Retired Colonel Ann Wright, I want to thank you for being
with us, refused entry into Canada, along with CODEPINK founder Medea
Benjamin, because Canadian authorities said her name appeared on a
criminal FBI database. For our radio listeners who can't see what Ann
is wearing, her black T-shirt has white letters across the front that
says, "We will not be silent."

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