more on U.S. databasing, this time of U.S. visitors

retina_scanning_youth.jpg
now almost anyone can qualify for this screen test


It's not the first story like this we've heard, it's not the most disturbing, and unfortunately it won't be the last, but it's worth a read. It's an account of one young man's personal and repeated experience of our nation's obsession with terror and it comes from a Canadian artist whose work Barry and I both know appreciate and who is with a New York gallery whose programs and directors we both respect and love.

The story was sent to me in response to the first of my two recent posts about the eye and face-scanning databasing program run by our troops in Iraq.

[The writer had written that he did not want it published, but as it turns out not for any reason I would have imagined. I asked him if I might have his permission to publish it anonymously. He answered yes, but added that the reason he would like his name withheld was not the fear of political consequences, but rather, "i don't really think that artists should enter the dialogue with people who write about art." I am printing his words here in their entirety and without editing the text I received, except to eliminate information which might identify the author.]

i live in [Canada], and came to NY for the armory a few months ago. i had
brought some watercolours with me that i hadn't finished in time to ship to
the gallery. i had done this MANY times before when coming to the US. as
you can imagine from my name, i'm just a WASP male, but i have a rather
mujahadeenish beard, grown not for fashion, but years ago, to hide a total
lack of chin. anyway. i had some watercolours tucked into a magazine in my
carry on. i declared them on the customs form. after going through the US
customs on the canadian side, i was asked to go into a secondary screening
room. this has happened to me many times before also, i am always getting
'randomly' searched, which i think might have to do with coming from
[a town with a reputation for drug use]. however this time, i
was told that bringing paintings into the country was illegal, i explained
that i had done it many times before with no problem, they told me that was
the fault of the customs agents who were derelict in their duty by allowing
such a transgression of the law . i explained that selling my work is my
only income, and that i wouldn't do it again etc etc. long story short, i
have gone my entire life without being fingerprinted, i have never broken
the law, gotten a ticket. however after i was told that i would be able to
bring my work to NY, this time, but NEVER again, and if i tried it again, i
would be in real trouble, i was subject to retinal eye scans, i had all of
my thumb and fingerprints scanned, and a biometric photograph of my face
taken. so now i am also one of the canadians in the homeland security file.
unlike people like mahar arar who was sent to syria for torture, or omar
khadar who is languishing in cuba, arrested as a 15 year old for throwing a
grenade at a soldier in iraq, i hopefully won't be extraodinarily
renditioned, unless they discover a secret scottish-irish mujahadeen. but,
i have a solo show in NY in september, i am less and less inclined to visit
the US. this is my fifth trip in a row where i was randomly singled out.
the first time i was subject to documentation. most of my friends in canada
are of pakistani or indian descent. i grew up with them in toronto. canada
is a multicultural place, save quebec, not a melting pot. and it really
opened my eyes to what my friends must have to deal with. so i thought this
story might be interesting to you. i'm starting to think i might pull a
marlon brando and start sending the other forgotten victims of american
imperialism to my openings for me, the sacheen littlefeathers of my first
nations neighbours . . . .


[image from the Department of Defense {they're proud of this stuff}, via electroniciraq]

whew, all these posts on this practice is amazing! Thanks for posting this.

Your artist friend is right - appallingly. My friends in Europe are becoming increasingly reluctant to allow US government goons go nuts on them when they arrive at JFK or Newark, all for the 'pleasure' of being allowed in the Land of the Free (tm). Thank you for pointing it out, though it is depressing. Do you think any Democrats (or others) will ever be brave enough to put an end to this surveillance?

The part of me which has watched what has happened in this country up to and including the present moment thinks there will be no fundamental change. The Democrats now own the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as much as the Republicans do or did, and they've also signed onto our bogus war on terrorism from the very beginning.

On the other hand, I still have this pollyanna thing inside of me and it prefers to ignore the facts.