A friendly talk with a professor

Observations on the FBI

''Are you anti-American?" the immigration officer asked the Greek professor Eugene ("Venios") Angelopoulos upon his arrival at JFK Airport. "Obviously not," he replied. "I am simply against the war, as is the case with so many American citizens."

Having successfully obtained his visa to travel to New York, the professor could not make sense of the events unfolding before his eyes.

Angelopoulos, who resisted the Greek colonels' junta in the 1970s and is now a vocal opponent of war in Iraq, had been invited to a conference at New York University. Handcuffed, he was taken to the interrogation room for a "friendly discussion". Once in the room, the handcuffs were removed only to be replaced by leg-irons.

There was "nothing personal against you", he was told, as he waited for an FBI agent, on her way to interrogate him further about the Greek terrorist group November 17. It took the officials five and a half hours to find out he was innocent.

You may think that the recent adventure of the 72-year-old Englishman Derek Bond, who languished in a South African cell for three weeks at the FBI's request in a case of mistaken identity, was a one-off. On the contrary, FBI blunders have become a nightmare for people travelling to the US. Has it become illegal to be anti-war? Or, as in Angelopoulos's case, to be left-wing? The McCarthyite fear of commies, it seems, lives on, transformed into a new fear of "terrorism".

Was the Angelopoulos incident (or accident) a mere blunder? Or was it a calculated "mistake" to send out a warning to similarly minded, and therefore unwelcome, visitors? He had gone to the US as a representative of the Greek nation and of the illustrious National Technical University of Athens.

Angelopoulos felt deeply violated during the "friendly discussion" at JFK's immigration office. He saw the incident as a violation of his freedom, as mani-fested in the loss of his most basic human rights: "I was told I was not allowed to have any legal help because, officially, I was not in American territory . . . my name was held in electronic files held by Washington."

Shielded by war on terror and the post- 9/11 Patriot Act (which expands the investigative and surveillance powers of the law-enforcement agencies), the US administration no longer thinks twice about interfering with people's privacy. "Even when people lose their independence from the powers of the governmental machine, they still have their humanity to rely on," says the professor.

Perhaps America needs to rethink its concepts of freedom and democracy.

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