Two months ago, I was invited to address the European Parliament on national security whistleblower issues. The invitation came from Stelios Kouloglou, a Greek member of the European Parliament (MEP) and a member of Greece's governing Syriza party. Syriza is a social democratic party that has worked hard on issues from social justice to poverty to peaceful relations between the countries of the eastern Mediterranean.
Kouloglou is also an award-winning international journalist. In 1996 he founded a weekly current affairs and documentary program called Reportage Without Frontiers; it was named the top news program in the country four times. His documentaries have been shown around the world and have won awards in the U.S., Spain, and South Korea. The international media watchdog Reporters Without Borders called him "the symbol of investigative journalism in Greece."
And late last week, Stelios Kouloglou was banned from the United States for being a "terrorist sympathizer." Why? Because he opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Here's what he told me in a recent email, shared with his permission:
"Seven years ago, I realized that I was blacklisted by the U.S. government. It was October 2010 when I went to the U.S. Embassy in Athens to renew my journalists' visa along with two of my colleagues. We had been using our visas since 2000 for travel to the U.S. for the needs of my weekly TV program, Reportage Without Frontiers. The program aired major stories and documentaries from around the world and had been named four times as the best news show on Greek television.
"My two colleagues were granted news visas immediately. However, I was told to go back home and wait. Seven years have passed since then, and despite different demarches, including that of freedom of the press watchdog Reporters Without Borders, I got no answer. Following my efforts with the U.S. Ambassadors in Athens and Brussels, they proposed that I apply for a simple travel visa. The result was the same: Rejected.
"I hoped that my election to the European Parliament could resolve the situation. In the summer of 2017, I was invited to address, as an MEP, the People's Summit in Chicago. Again I applied for a visa, but still got no response. This month I was named a member of the official European Parliament delegation to the U.S. to meet with American colleagues and officials. This time, the U.S. government came forward with an explanation: After seven years I was informed that my visa application was rejected, and it pointed to an article [I had written] on terrorism. So to my utter surprise, I found that I am suspected of endorsing terrorism.
"Of course, I have absolutely nothing to do with terrorism. I have produced multiple documentaries against terrorism, including on the real danger of Islamic terrorism... What did happen, though, is that the U.S. Embassy in Athens complained to the Greek government about my documentaries... As I would expect, they did not at all like a 2004 documentary on the Iraq invasion. Another film of mine, Confessions of an Economic Hitman, also sparked complaints (from the U.S. Embassy).
"I feel vindicated for the criticism my documentaries made of U.S. foreign policy. The invasion of Iraq, it is now commonly believed, was the foundation of the Islamic State. I did not kill JFK, and I demand answers. Shall we Europeans forbid U.S. members of Congress from coming to Europe on the basis of their political views?"
I know Stelios Kouloglou personally. I can tell you that he is a mainstream progressive. He's a serious journalist and filmmaker, a respected politician, and a voice for the poor and downtrodden. He's no radical. He loves democracy and freedom as much as any American does. And as Americans, we should be ashamed of his treatment at the hands of our government.
I'm not talking about just Donald Trump here. Stelios Kouloglou also has been wronged by Barack Obama and George W. Bush and by their State Department bureaucrats. Are we Americans such hothouse flowers that any criticism of our government or its policies brands a person an Enemy of the State? What happened to freedom of speech? What happened to the free exchange of ideas? Since when did it become dangerous to say that the U.S. invasion of another country, done in contravention of international law and the United Nations charter, was illegal? It was illegal!
It's now normal for our government to suspect literally everyone of something. Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto recently revealed that the entire Pittsburgh City Council was placed on a Department of Homeland Security terrorism watchlist for voting to oppose fracking within the city limits. Meanwhile, the National Security Agency listens to literally all of our phone calls and reads literally all of our emails and text messages just in case we take a political position that the government doesn't like.
Stelios Kouloglou got a taste of that. He will not visit the United States in 2018. His ideas on democracy, peace, and international understanding are apparently too dangerous for Americans to be exposed to. That's wrong, and our country is lesser for it.
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