The United States of America is truly one of the greatest countries on earth. A shining example is our higher education system, which doubles as the world’s greatest producer of science. The fundamental right to free speech combined with a strong culture of academic freedom have fermented into a higher education system unparalleled in both academic training and research productivity. The American research university is truly the envy of the world.
One of the profound privileges that members of university communities experience is the free exchange of ideas between scholars from all over the world. Frequently this comes about by inviting scholars from other institutions to visit and speak. On any given day at a major university campus, there will be dozens of talks on topics ranging from sub-atomic particles to comparative cross-cultural cosmologies. (For example, today I attended at seminar by Harvard’s renowned political scientist Dr. Gary King on statistical methods for measuring public opinion through blogs.)
For weeks now, I’ve been looking forward to attending a talk by Dr. Riyadh Lafta, a well-known Iraqi epidemiologist. Dr. Lafta was scheduled to give a talk at Kane Hall on Friday evening at the University of Washington campus. The talk is on the recent rise in cancer rates among Iraqi children. Things went awry something over a week ago:
“The University of Washington wanted him, but the U.S. denied his entry,” said his colleague at [Simon Frasier University (SFU)], Tim Takaro….”best they’re going to get is a video feed.”
Once in Canada, Dr. Lafta will present estimates that paint a damning portrait of the war’s ravages on children: that birth defects are on the rise since the war began, and that the number of children dying from cancers such as leukemia has risen tenfold.
Dr. Lafta had tried for six months to get a visa into Seattle to speak in Washington, and was ignored a half-dozen times, Dr. Takaro said.
Apparently, the Bush administration is willing to sacrifice academic freedom on their alter of wingnut ideology. How is it that the Bush administration even noticed Dr. Lafta? Do they really scrutinize the content of every epidemiological talk given by a foreigner? In this case it seems clear that Dr. Lafta is being targeted by the Bush administration because he is a coauthor on a couple of controversial epidemiological studies: the two “on the ground” studies that estimated the increase in all forms of mortality in Iraq since the U.S. invasion.
Okay, so the Bush administration gets to partially suppress the talk. It is now scheduled to be done by video link from Canada. Within the last day, however, the plans have changed once again.
After he couldn’t get a visa to tell Americans about an alarming rise in cancer levels among Iraqi children, a renowned Iraqi epidemiologist has been told he can’t fly through Britain en route to give a similar talk in Canada.
Riyadh Lafta — best known for a controversial study in the respected medical journal The Lancet that estimated Iraq’s war dead at more than half a million — said in an e-mail to his U.S. research colleagues that he had two choices: Fly to England without the transit visa, or turn around and go home.
“[British consular officials] refuse to give us a transit visa just to change airplanes,” Dr. Lafta wrote from Amman to colleagues at the University of Washington, and to B.C.’s Simon Fraser University, where he planned to give a talk on Friday.
You don’t think the British government would deny a scientist a 4-hour “transit visa” just because he has co-authored a peer-reviewed scientific article? Well…maybe. I mean, the article estimates that, following the U.S. led invasion of Iraq, mortality rates increased to genocide-levels (the article was published in The Lancet, one of the most respected biomedical journals in the world).
The suppression of Dr. Lafta’s visit goes beyond an inconvenience of free exchange of ideas at a University. These actions will also impede the bread-and-butter research of Dr. Lafta and his colleagues at SFU and UW:
With Dr. Lafta are scores of documents that will help researchers from Simon Fraser, Washington and Iraq determine how badly the U.S.-led war in Iraq affects children — whether birth defects in Iraq are on the rise, and whether Iraqi children are suffering a tenfold increase in cancers such as leukemia, said Simon Fraser professor Tim Takaro.
So…I guess the “culture of life” doesn’t apply to childhood cancers and child mortality in Iraq. What a bunch of fucking hypocrites!
The pattern is clear. The Bush administration has a single guiding principle: ideology is everything! Nothing else is sacred. They have attempted to destroy everything that offers the least resistance to their ideology: our national reputation, the lives of our young people, a CIA nuclear weapons counter-proliferation program, our justice system, our national emergency response, the national coffers, and several parts of the constitution to name a few. Of course, they have launched a number of well-known assaults against science, higher education, and academic freedom as well.
In the end, the Bush administration will lose this battle. A U.S.-based coauthor on the mortality paper is prepared to step in for Dr. Lafta. That will change the focus from childhood cancers to the astonishing increase in overall mortality following the U.S. led invasion of Iraq. Ultimately technology will completely circumvent the wishes of the Bush administration—video link-ups are not rocket science.
The Bush administration has charted a course back to the medieval dark ages where, as the joke goes, we are all mushrooms—kept in the dark and fed bullshit. If this attack on academic freedom pisses you off as much as it does me, please take a moment to write to your Representative and Senators (find contact information here).
(Hat tip: SeattleJew, cross-posted at HominidViews.)
Jenna Bush spews:
Daddy was stoned that day.
Daddy is stoned every day.
There is no redeeming value in this insane action by the State Department. The ONLY explanation is a crass disregard for the INTENT of the First Amendment.
Dr, Lafta is a world respected epidemiologist. Americans have right, clearly intended by the Framers, to free information. The only reason to keep him out is censorship, stupid censorship.
Personally, unlike Darryl (who has more credentials in this area than I do) I was inclined to be a skeptic. Peer reviewed may or may not mean that the conclusions are correct. Now I am inclined to believe Dr. Lafta and will read the original article even though it is not in my field.
What a victory for Publican small government ideals.
And thanks for the update and helpful discussion about the situation yesterday.
Richard Pope spews:
Sorry folks, the U.S. State Department denies TONS of visitor visas. They have done it under George W. Bush, they did it under William J. Clinton, and they did it before that. Simple arbitrary denials, with no explanations given and no right of appeal. It is all within the discretion or indiscretion of the individual consular officer at the diplomatic outpost in question. It has NOTHING to do with the decision-making of any higher-ups in the State Department. And most of your career Foreign Service officers serving in these consular positions tend to be a little bit more liberal than the average American.
Probably the vast majority of visitor visa applications from poorer countries such as Iraq are turned down. Some vague policy reason that they are afraid people won’t return to their country of origin and will become illegal immigrants. Even in second-world countries such as Russia, close to half of visitor visa applicants are turned down.
As for Iraq, things are sort of special. First of all, the U.S. Embassy in Iraq doesn’t process visitor visas for ordinary visitors. They will only process visas for Iraqi diplomats and official visitors sponsored by the U.S. or Iraqi governments. All other applicants for Iraq are basically required to apply through the U.S. Embassy in Jordan.
And here is the explanation the U.S. Embassy in Amman, Jordan gives as to why the vast majority of visa applications are denied:
“If you or someone you know has had a non-immigrant visa application refused by Embassy Amman, it is most likely that the consular officer found the applicant ineligible under Section 214(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). This is the most common type of refusal in non-immigrant cases and is frequently accompanied by the explanation that the applicant is “not qualified” for the visa.
U.S. visa law, as specified in Section 214(b) of the INA, requires that every applicant for a non-immigrant visa be considered an intending immigrant until the applicant can show otherwise. To overcome the presumption of immigrant intent, the visa applicant must demonstrate to the consular officer that his reasons for returning to Jordan are greater than his reasons for staying in the United States. The vast majority of applicants who are refused are denied because they were unable to overcome that presumption.
The fact that someone was refused does not mean that he or she cannot apply again. If an applicant can bring new information to the next interview that indicates a SUBSTANTIAL CHANGE in his or her circumstance, he or she is welcome to reapply.”
Richard Pope spews:
The Consul General is the officer in each U.S. Embassy in charge of consular services, including visas for foreigners to visit the United States. The Consul General in the U.S. Embassy in Amman, Jordan is Rena Bitter. In 2006, Ms. Bitter was the recipient of the coveted “Jefferson Award” from the relatively liberal “American Citizens Abroad” organization:
Rena Bitter is the Consular Chief in Amman, Jordan. She joined the Foreign Service in 1994 and has previously served in Mexico City; Bogota, Colombia; and London. She worked for a year directly with the British Foreign Office before becoming the Chief of the Nonimmigrant Visa Unit at the American Embassy in London. During a recent assignment in Washington, she served as a Special Assistant to former Secretary of State Colin Powell.
In her current capacity as the Consular Chief in Amman, Rena has a double responsibility. Not only does she provide a full range of assistance to American citizens visiting and living in Jordan, but also she provides vital backup and support services to David Abell and others at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. She and David lead a powerful team working together to respond to the needs of U.S. citizens in very trying circumstances.
Rena has been the recipient of three awards for her outstanding performance. Two of these cited her leadership of London’s nonimmigrant visa unit, the largest visa processing post in Europe. The third noted her contributions to the office of the Secretary of State. As testimony to her courage and dedication, one of her supervisors a few years ago wrote: “If my grandkids were to find themselves in trouble, I would hope someone like Rena would be available” to help them.
ACA salutes David and Rena, thanks them for their outstanding contributions so far, and wishes them well in their careers.
* * * * *
ACA is a non-partisan, non-profit association of US citizens living outside of the United States. Founded in Geneva, Switzerland in 1978, it now has members on six continents. ACA works to address and correct a wide range of inequities in US laws and regulations as they apply to US citizens residing overseas. These include issues such as unfair taxation, deprivation of citizenship, needed changes in voting rights and the promotion of direct congressional representation for the overseas American community. ACA works to promote a positive image of the United States, and of overseas U.S. citizens, and stresses their very important contributions to the economy and the image of America. ACA recently published a new anthology of stories about living abroad entitled: “So Far Yet So Near”.
ACA launched the Thomas Jefferson Award in 1993 to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the birth of Thomas Jefferson, America’s first Secretary of State. Jefferson, who lived outside the new republic for many years, promoting the political, economic and intellectual interests of his country, was the quintessential overseas American. That is why this award is given in his name. The positive response and the impressive nominations submitted for this award each year demonstrate the importance and appreciation of the work that State Department employees do for and on behalf of the 4 million US citizens living and working abroad.
Richard Pope spews:
This is the closest I can find to biographical information on the wicked Rena Bitter, who turned down the visitor’s visa for the distinguished Iraqi professor. Since the member of Congress honoring her is a Republican, she must surely be evil incarnate:
SPEECH OF HON. PETE SESSIONS OF TEXAS
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
FRIDAY, JANUARY 12, 2007
Mr. SESSIONS. Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure to recognize Rena Bitter, a Dallas native and a Foreign Service officer currently serving as Consular Chief at the U.S. Embassy in Amman, Jordan, for winning the 2006 Thomas Jefferson Award presented by American Citizens Abroad (ACA).
This honor is extended to State Department employees who have displayed exemplary service to the American community overseas. ACA founded this award to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the birth of Thomas Jefferson, America’s first Secretary of State and third President. They described Jefferson as “the quintessential Overseas American” who lived outside the new republic for many years while helping to secure its independence and promote its political, economic and national security interests. In a similar manner, Rena serves our country today as Jefferson once served.
Rena entered the Foreign Service in 1994 having previously served in Mexico City, Mexico; Bogota, Colombia; and London, England. After spending a year with the British Foreign Office, Rena served as Chief of the Nonimmigrant Visa Unit at the American Embassy in London. During an assignment in Washington, DC, Rena served as a Special Assistant to former Secretary of State Colin Powell. Rena received additional leadership awards while serving both at the American Embassy in London and the office of the Secretary of State.
Currently in Amman, Rena has a wide range of responsibilities. She not only assists American citizens living and working in Jordan, but supports David Abell (co-winner of this award) and his co-workers at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. Rena’s dedicated efforts provide for the needs of our fellow citizens in very difficult times. As a testimony of her dedication to Americans overseas, one of her supervisors once wrote that “If my grandkids were to find themselves in trouble, I would hope it would be Rena, or someone like her, who would be available” to help them.
I wish Rena Bitter all the best, and I thank her for her dedicated service to the American citizens overseas.
Sick Dick’s attempts to bullshit and deflect notwithstanding, people who UNLIKE Dickie, love America and freedom should hate that the Bush Regime is proving it’s nothing but a two-bit dictatorship run by a batshit crazy asshole worthy of impeachment.
The good news is that in this day and age, the right wing cowards cannot stop the free flow of ideas. They can slow them down, but they can’t stop them. They can use useful idiots like WHATADICK Pope to try to deflect and lie, but they can’t stop the ideas from getting heard.
In the end, the moonbat right wing turds might have actually gotten this guy more attention than he would have gotten without the cowardly traitors pulling the plug on him.
Remeber when that pervert Bill O Really tried to stop Al Franken’s book? Made Al a million bucks and got his book to the best-seller list.
Now if only we could figure out a way to send Bush and his pals like PervPope to some country where there’s NO freedom…
This is not the first time this has happened either. I was talking with someone from UW administration a while back and they have had a number of job candidates and visiting professors denied visas.
The only connection between them all is that they were from the Middle East and of Arabic or Persian decent. The really stupid thing about this is that some of them were even for the Iraq War and Occupation. Somehow this has not been a problem with European scholars… imagine that?
YOS LIB BRO spews:
as the joke goes, we are all mushrooms—kept in the dark and fed bullshit.
AN APT METAPHOR FOR THE BRAINDEAD WINGNUT SHILLS WHO HAUNT HA.ORG AND THE TOTAL LOSERS AT (UN)SP.
THEY CAN’T TOLERATE THE LIGHT OF REASON AND TRUTH. THEY’D SHRIVEL UP AND DIE IF THEY WERE EXPOSED.
Richard Pope makes a good point … Congressman Seesions is an Eagle Scout too! I am impressed!
Lets be serious. This COULD be a simple bureaucratic FU. It could also be that Dr, Lafta is a member of a Communist cell planning to meet with his el Qaeda collaborators in RED square to plate the destruction of the statue of George Washington on campus.
What to do:
I suspect the telecast at Kane Hall will be poorly attended. Not many folks will want to go to campus to observe a talking head on TV screens. The most effective thing Mr. Pope could do to SHOW that this is simply a bureaucratic issue and not censorship, would be to show up and express his support for freedom of speech.
Kane Hall 7pm Friday.
Don Bowen spews:
I’ve noticed you like to point out the times when the “progressives” criticize others yet often people of the “progressive” ilk are pretty much guilty of the same offenses being criticized. Pointing out “progressive” hypocrisy is just as improtant as pointing out right wing hypocrisy.
Richard Pope spews:
SeattleJ @ 10
I don’t think this is any sort of bureaucratic FU. Most likely, it is the result of applying income and property standards to rebut the “intending immigrant” presumption under Section 214(b) of the INA. They would ask the professor for proof of his economic ties to Iraq, such as his income and assets. Basically, proof of his official salary, and proof of any real estate ownership and the value thereof. Chances are that his official income and property value are extremely low by our standards — just like the vast majority of Iraqis. As a result, he is denied a visitor visa.
As Nindid has pointed out, the exact same thing also happens with visitors from these countries who are politically supportive of the things the United States is doing. Basically, it is really difficult for someone to get a visitor visa if they are from the poorer countries in the Middle East. If a country has a high percentage of folks who either enter the U.S. illegally, or who stay in the U.S. after expiration of their visa (for whatever reason), then much more stringent policies are applied by the consular officers. Basically, they deal with the problem by reducing the number of visas issued.
N in Seattle spews:
So is the Kane Hall video-conference going to happen or not?
Darryl, I’d intended to drop you a note about meeting beforehand, as we’d briefly discussed awhile back. Is that pointless now?
Well, one could “guess” the same thing about the current issues in re the motivation for firing the attorneys.
As for whether this fellow can pass the state department’s requirements, your explanation while plausible is a rather far reach. This is not some Iraq Sunni barber whose shop can no longer opened, it is a well known international figure with university connections. He is as unlikely to sneak into the US permanently as is Karzai .. err maybe less.
If this were an exceptional episode, I might tend to support yout view. It is, however, not the case. The Bush policy has beent o keep all sorts of info on Iraq from the US public .. ironically leading the “enemy” open to say whatever it wants. As one example, our govt offer NO estimates of the impact of the invasion on Iraq’s non combatants,
While we are at this topic, doesn’t strike you as bizar that 4 years into Bush’s Great Adventure, we do not seem to have an exchange program for Iraq’s sympathetic with our democratic goals?
Anyhow, my challenge remains open. If you truly believe in freedom of speach, whether this is FU or benign screw up, come to Kane Hall. I will be there and am easy to identify.
Shaun Moore spews:
I spoke to Dr. Takaro, the UW and Rep. Jim McDermott’s office about Dr. Lafta’s situation. You can read the story in today’s edition of The Daily.
jsa on commercial drive spews:
I am also familar with visa processes. State can be a wee bit capricious.
If you are from a country like Jordan, and plan to take a vacation in the US, and process the application yourself, they can turn the application down, and frequently do, for all sorts of reasons.
An academic being invited to speak at UW will not be doing her own paperwork. There will be an advance person at UW whose job is to manage her travel. While wrangling visas is not the advance person’s full-time job, they probably spend a fair amount of time on this. By the 15th or 16th visa application you’ve done, you generally get a pretty good idea of what they do and don’t like to see on them.
Further, while an academic being denied a visa to speak in the US is possible, being simultaneously denied a transit visa is stretching the outer edge of plausibility. A transit visa is a pro forma piece of paperwork that says the government of the UK (in this case) believes you’re not going to dash over the fence or set off a bomb in Heathrow airport. It is highly unusual for them to be denied, especially to boring people who write academic papers for a living.
Jack Burton spews:
So not only did Bush turn this person down, he called over to England and told them to do the same. Of course they complied without hesitation.
Sounds pretty connected for being “Stoopid” and a “monkey boy.”
Is there anything, anywhere, that goes wrong and it ISN’T Bush’s fault?
headless lucy spews:
re 17: Of course it’s not Bush’s fault.
Chester the Molester spews:
Been readin’ Penthouse lately? Me and the boys buy it strictly for the pics.
Roger Rabbit spews:
@4 “It has NOTHING to do with the decision-making of any higher-ups in the State Department.”
Richard, are you really this naive? This is a top-down administration, run by people with a top-down philosophy about everything, who run everything top-down. The excuses you make for these fascists have no more credibility than Gonzo’s.
Roger Rabbit spews:
Richard, unabashed apologist for GOP bullies that he is, no doubt would be embarrassed to find out how much taxpayer money has been spent monitoring this professor’s publications, speeches, and movements.
Roger Rabbit spews:
You could build several concrete pontoon bridges every year with the money the Bushies spend on harassing people they perceive as political adversaries.
Roger Rabbit spews:
I saw a news article a couple days ago concerning a lawsuit against the organizers of a Bush “town hall” meeting by two non-disruptive citizens who were ejected by GOP thugs because of an anti-war bumper sticker on their car.
The GOPers’ lawyers argued to the court that the president’s appearance in a public building to discuss social security with members of the public was a private meeting, and the organizers had a right to decide who could or could not attend.
They seem to have forgotten that’s a public office the presidents occupies, and that social security is a public program funded by our taxes. They also seem to have forgotten they were meeting in a public building, and had invited the general public.
What it boils down to is these folks arrogate to themselves a “right” to dictate other people’s thoughts, beliefs, and speech. Even worse, they arrogate to themselves the “right” to exercise government powers and expend public resources to enforce their group-think on society. This is what dictatorship looks like, and we shouldn’t tolerate it, even if it takes civil disobedience — or more — to remove it. Republicanism is a cancer in our society that must be removed to prevent the death of our way of life as we have known it.
Roger Rabbit spews:
@11 Standard Wingnut Defense #13: When you get caught behaving like Stalinists, accuse liberals of doing it, too.
Don Bowen = another wingnut loser.
Roger Rabbit spews:
@17 After years of blaming Clinton for everything that goes wrong, why are wingnuts like you surprised that we blame Bush for everything that goes wrong? After all, Clinton isn’t running this country anymore, Bush is, and has been for six years now. This visa denial sure as hell isn’t Clinton’s fault. It happened on your boy’s watch, dude.
A “Republican” is someone who won’t take responsibility for the consequences of his actions.
Richard Pope spews:
From The UW Daily article:
“Mike DeCesare, a McDermott spokesperson, said the visa was denied due to bureaucratic missteps.”
Very unfortunate, and it would have been wiser to approve the application under the circumstances. But nevertheless a bureaucratic misstep by some career Foreign Service officer — who, more likely than not, thinks President Bush really sucks anyway.
Does anybody have a copy of the visa rejection letter? And a reliable translation, if it was written in Arabic? State Department will list the asserted reasons for visitor visa denial — which almost always are Section 214(b) of the INA for not overcoming the statutory presumption of being an intended immigrant.
Jack Burton spews:
So it WAS Bush’s fault! ** Why did I even doubt it? **
He personally denied the request and then called his pal Tony Blair and told him not to let the prof. in there either? **Well you post like Bush, although “stoopid”, has the say so on virtually everything.**
And you know for a fact that this is not due to administrative redtape?
Oh yeah…I never blamed Clinton for “everything.” Just perjury and treating this war like it was a matter for the Police and Lawyers) to handle.
Did you just stop reading at that sentence? Here’s what came right after that sentence you posted:
My god, you’re pathetic.
“A “Republican” is someone who won’t take responsibility for the consequences of his actions.”
“Republican” and “Democrat” are interchangeable words in that comment.
Don Joe spews:
Libertarian, the difference, of course, is that Democrats don’t go around touting “personal responsibility” as a key point in their policy debates.
I know the Democrats don’t much hang with personal responsibility, and they surely don’t tout it. They’re into government as the answer to everything. “Government should take care of everything.”
So what’s wrong with that??
Tree Frog Farmer spews:
Fibbertarians are Republicans who lie about their political bias.
In spite of some of its campaign blather and the righteous rhetoric of some of its more deluded supporters, I don’t see this administration as motivated by ideology. At least, not unless an ideology can be inferred from a pattern of arrogance, greed and stupidity.
And so it goes.
The issues is a wide spread ideology in this admin that is likely far beyond anything that is simply run from Rove’s cell phone. Appoint Regency Law grads, 150 of them and you get what might be expected. The head chaplain at the NIH hospital mow appears to be trying to fire the Jew and the Catholic chaplains. Gonzales seems blissfully unaware that ethics are more than the letter of the law.
Enough is enough!
What are you anyhoo???
If you are a Republican you should be mad at the bureaucrats for their big government behavior even MORE so because it casts bad light on your guys.
Me? I am just a patriot, I’ll vote for anyone I believe in. Only thing is now we have a govt by the peripherally intelligent. So, I vote dem to protect my country from the idiots. Any patriot would feel the same way, esp. a Republican.
Unfortunately, the Publican part has rarely had a good leader since Ike. Either their guy is senile or nasty or incompetent. Where are the bill Clintons, Jack Kennedys, Humphreys, Stevensons, etc. of the GOP???
Richard Pope is just another of Bush’s willing executioners.
He does not see the sky unless Karl Rove tells him to look up.
The dumb thing here is that anyone tries to debate him. There is no reasoning with these traitors because they do not see reason. They live and breathe only to espouse their dogma of hate, greed, and corruption.
They are the foulest, most pervasive and damaging poison presently on earth. They are genocide itself.
jsa on commercial drive spews:
Jack Burton @ 27:
Uh, dude, do you have a paying job? No, seriously.
In most places I work, people know what the boss does and doesn’t like. Sometimes word filters down from on high. Sometimes senior management imparts their own agendas. Sometimes you just pick it up through the air.
People with sensitive antennas as to what is needed get promoted. Those who don’t either stay in low-level jobs or get shuffled out. This is true of almost any organization. It doesn’t matter if it’s run by angels, devils, or someone in the muddled middle.
People who work in the White House are nothing if not ambitious. I suspect most of them have pretty good antennas.
Nobody has to call anybody. The wonderful thing about the information age is we have databases. This one is great. It contains data about all the evildoers around the world.
Put a flag in this next to a person’s name. State gets a filtered version of the database. I would not be surprised if the UK Home Office shares that information. At that point, it’s not personal. “The Computer” says you don’t get a visa. No, I don’t know why your name is in there either.
It is, after all, just a visa screwup. Thousands of them happen every year.
I posted my pix and comments on the event at http://www.seattlejew.blogspot.com