Concern is mounting that the US government is using antiterror
laws - namely, the Patriot Act - to revive a now-discredited
practice common during the cold war: the prevention of foreign
intellectuals who are critical of administration policies from
entering the country and sharing their views with Americans.
The practice, called ideological exclusion, became illegal in
1990. But a recent lawsuit - brought by the American Association of
University Professors (AAUP), the American Civil Liberties Union
(ACLU), and the PEN American Center under the Freedom of Information
Act - is asking the Bush administration to explain its decisions to
revoke or deny visas to several foreign scholars, and why they don't
violate free-speech protections.
"This is about free speech, the purpose of colleges and
universities," says Donna Euben, counsel for the AAUP in Washington.
"We're not challenging the [USA Patriot Act] itself. We're just
asking for information about its application to these particular
scholars where there is no evidence that they have supported
terrorism in any way."
In their suit, the groups cite the cases of several foreign
scholars. One, Tariq Ramadan, is a prominent Swiss Muslim scholar
who has condemned terrorism and routinely come to the United States
on speaking tours in the past. In 2004, as he was preparing to take
up a teaching post at the University of Notre Dame, his visa was
revoked. The US government gave no formal reason, but press reports
suggested the denial was based on "antiterrorism law." Another
scholar, Dora Maria Tellez, is a former Nicaraguan government
official who more than a decade ago was involved in the overthrow of
the US-backed Somoza regime. She had been lined up to teach at
Harvard University, but last January her visa was denied.
Administration officials aren't commenting on either case because
the matter is now in the courts. But those who support the
government's actions say it has a right and a duty to protect
national security at a time of war. If it's concerned that a foreign
national may promote ideas or activities that are antithetical to US
interests, it has every right to deny that individual entry - and
without an explanation.
The controversy is the latest illustration of the potential clash
between commonly accepted civil rights and governmental efforts to
protect national security. At the center of the debate about
ideological exclusions is a little known provision of the Patriot
Act, called Section 411. It allows the government to refuse
admission to foreign nationals who, in the government's view, "have
used [their] position of prominence within any country to endorse or
espouse terrorist activity, or to persuade others to support
terrorist activity or a terrorist organization in a way the
Secretary of State has determined undermines United States efforts
to reduce or eliminate terrorism. …