Saturday, December 13, 2003

“Papers, please.”

It’s a scene from a grainy World War II spy movie: a stern Gestapo guard works his way down the aisle of a train as it approaches the checkpoint. Our hero huddles in his overcoat, holding up a copy of Volkischer Beobachter, hoping he won’t be noticed. His mind races; should he make a break for the door, or sit quietly? He knows he wouldn’t get far, but it’s better than the inevitable interrogation and torture that will come if he’s caught. A bead of sweat trickles down his back, even though it’s snowing outside and the railroad car is chilly. All the other passengers comply quietly. There is silence. No one protests. Then comes the inevitable tap on the shoulder; the line comes out in a hiss: “Your papers, please.” An excrutiating wait as the guard flips through the pages. Then the dreaded words are spoken. “You vill come vis me.” All hope is lost.

But wait! It’s not the Swiss border in 1943. It’s JFK airport in 2003:

Anyone who thinks the administration and its law enforcement chief, Attorney General John Ashcroft, aren’t out to impede a free press need only hear how the federal government is treating foreign journalists coming to this country on assignment.

Without notification to foreign media outlets, the immigration and customs people are arresting, detaining, and deporting journalists arriving here without special visas. This is so even when they come from nations whose citizens can stay for up to 90 days without a visa if they are arriving as tourists or on business.

If that threatening form of registration is not enough, members of the press arriving without the visas, which no one told them they needed, are treated like criminals, handcuffed as they’re marched through airports, photographed, fingerprinted, and their DNA taken.


Members of Congress, regardless of party, who understand the absurdity of it all, even in these troubled times, should demand an end to this repressive embarrassment.

It’s not likely President Bush ever will.

Where are Humphrey Bogart, Claude Rains, and Paul Henreid now that we need them?

Update: Well, as NTodd points out in the comments, Messers Bogart, Rains, and Henreid have all hopped the twig. What I should have said is, “Where are Rick Blaine, Capt. Renault, and Victor Lazlo [their respective characters in Casablanca] now that we need them?” Their characters will live on forever, as will their patriotism and defiance of repression.