Are we still a free society? Six years of Bush vermin nibbling at our liberties makes us less so all the time. Nina Bernstein of the New York Times returns to a story that is over a year old. The failure to resolve this patently egregious miscarriage of justice is distressingly ample evidence that the police-state tendencies of the Bush administration are poisoning every aspect of life in our nation.
The plight of Nalini Ghuman exhibits all the hallmarks of our federal government under President Bush: incompetence, paranoia, high-handedness, and stubbornness. Ghuman is an assistant professor of music at Mills College in Oakland, California. As a British subject, she works (or used to work) in the United States under an H-1B visa. In August of 2006, when Ghuman returned to the U.S. from a research trip to her native Britain, armed immigration officials in San Francisco took her into custody at the international airport and subjected her to a bizarre ordeal.
In a written account of the next eight hours that she prepared for her lawyer, Ms. Ghuman said that officers tore up her H-1B visa, which was valid through May 2008, defaced her British passport, and seemed suspicious of everything from her music cassettes to the fact that she had listed Welsh as a language she speaks. A redacted government report about the episode obtained by her lawyer under the Freedom of Information Act erroneously described her as “Hispanic.”Ghuman chose to leave the country rather than risk open-ended incarceration in the Santa Clara facility. She asked to speak to the British consul, but she was told she had no right to do so—in fact, she had no rights at all.
Held incommunicado in a room in the airport, she was groped during a body search, she said, and was warned that if she moved, she would be considered to be attacking her armed female searcher. After questioning her for hours, the officers told her that she had been ruled inadmissible, she said, and threatened to transfer her to a detention center in Santa Clara, Calif., unless she left on a flight to London that night.
How long did it take the gun-toting thugs of the U.S. government to realize they had made a mistake? We don't know. In fairness, it could have been a long time. It appears to be disloyal—or even un-American—for federal workers to use their brains these days, lest they appear to think themselves better than the president. Nevertheless, it hardly matters. Professor Ghuman was deemed a security risk and the absence of any evidence to that effect is immaterial.
The State Department has not cooperated with numerous inquiries from Ghuman's colleagues and members of the American Musicological Society (a well-known terrorist front). Members of the British parliament have received similar short shrift and even U.S. Senator Dick Durbin has been able to get a straight answer from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice or anyone else in the Bush administration. The feds have dragged their feet for more than a year now, effectively thumbing their noses at Ghuman, her family, her associates, and her students at Mills College (or, rather, those who would have been her students), as well as American citizens in general and their elected representatives.
Professor Ghuman is a respected scholar in her field, known particularly for her knowledge of the work of British composer Edward Elgar. We all know Elgar, whose Pomp and Circumstance march has been reduced to a boring tradition at graduation ceremonies. Many of us will hear it again at the end of the academic year in June of 2008. Don't be surprised if Nalini Ghuman's situation remains unresolved at that time. Although the Bush administration is the epitome of gross incompetence, one thing it knows how to do is run out the clock.