Those who enter our borders for the purpose of giving readings, attending festivals, or otherwise entertaining us are treated in a most inhospitable, and often egregious, way. Such is the case with a British author who, last month, took a flight across the pond for the sole purpose of doing a reading to launch his recently published memoir. PEN American Center reports that Sebastian Horsley, author of "Dandy in the Underworld," flew from London's Heathrow Airport to Newark Liberty International Airport where he was denied entry into the United States.
"It is of course a matter of grave concern to us when a writer is exluded from the United States after searching his writings and statements for grounds of inadmissibility," PEN says in a press release. Indeed, it is a matter of concern for all of us who love literature and free speech. It is of even graver concern when customs officials take it upon themselves to become the arbiters of what constitutes right conduct or principles.
On March 18th, some customs agents pulled the author over because they didn't like the way he looked. When he explained that he was a writer, Horsley was detained for hours while officials Googled him, and searched the Internet to find as much of his writing as possible. They also reportedly spoke with him at length. Inasmuch as he admitted his "past involvement with drug use and prostitution," the British writer was denied entry into this country on the basis of what U.S. customs officials called "moral turpitude."
As a result of his banishment, the British author will be unable to participate in one of the largest, most prestigious literary gatherings, World Voices Festival of International Literature, which PEN will present later this month. Many were looking forward to hearing him speak.
Reading about his plight, this morning, got me to thinking about what "moral turpitude" means, and how we can be audacious enough to call anyone else base or depraved especially in light of the stunning revelation by ABC News, last week, that the highest level of government was involved in orchestrating a systematic program of prisoner abuse which was micromanaged by the vice president, and approved by the president himself.
As we now know, the National Security Council's Principals Committee, which consisted of Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, past National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, former CIA Director, George Tenet, and Attorney General John Ashcroft met not once, but several times, to sign off on so-called "enhanced alternative" interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding, which would be then be employed on Al Qaeda detainees.
But, can somebody explain how what happened at Abu Ghraib can be described as anything other than "moral depravity?"
Cheney and other officials contend it was their intention to insulate the president by taking on the issue of how to handle CIA interrogation tactics without his direct involvement, but the president quickly disspelled that myth on Friday, saying he not only knew his national security team held meetings to discuss waterboarding, and other legally dubious practices, but that he approved the practices.
Yes, this group of "elitists," Cheney, Rice, Powell, Ashcroft, met often, back in 2002, to discuss what interrogation tactics they could use, as well as how many times they could use them, on a case by case basis. Now Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice chaired the committee and, in the face of growing opposition from Colin Powell, acted as a cheerleader, encouraging the CIA with statements like "This is your baby. Go do it."
In fact, a memo written weeks after 9/11, which is still classified, is said to detail unprecedented ways in which the military could be used domestically to protect the U.S. against itself. How Hoover can you get?
How can it be called anything less than "moral turpitude" when the president authorizes practices that have traditionally been considered torture? Where are congressional efforts to divulge the contents of this memo written back in October, 2001?
John Ashcroft was outraged at the idea of the president's advisors meeting in the White House Situation Room to talk about torture. "History will not judge this kindly," the former attorney-general said.
But, how will history will judge those customs officials, in New Jersey, who singled out a British author, and refused to admit him based on his discussion of past drug use, and visits with prostitutes, what they call his "moral turpitude?" Seems like small potatoes now, doesn't it, in light of Ashcroft's concerns about waterboarding as does the impeachment of a former president for lying to a federal grand jury about engaging in an extramarital sex act. Seems like small potatoes given that the closest advisors to the 43rd president of the United States gave the green light to obtain information from a prisoner of war by strapping him down, and pouring water on his face to simulate drowning.
How dare customs agents, in this country, detain a foreign writer at an airport, subject him to hours of interrogation, use his written works as ammunition against him, and then refuse to admit him to the country all because they consider his ideas offensive. What an insult to civilization, to men and women of conscience, and consciousness. How can this not result in unwillingness by other international writers, in future, to grace us with their presence?
Barring British author Sebastian Horsley from entering the U.S. denies him the right to participate in an important festival, and it also sends a clear message just how perverse we've become, how far we've strayed from a free, and open society. Moreover, this depraved concept of customs enforcement demeans us as a principled country, one that respects the value of the world of letters, as well as the rule of law.