[Marxism] US Denies Visa to Vaunted Colombian Journalist

Tom Cod tomcod3 at gmail.com
Sat Jul 10 14:11:23 MDT 2010

BOGOTA, COLOMBIA (Wash Post, 7/10/10) -- In his work reporting on this
country's drug-fueled conflict, Colombian journalist Hollman Morris has met
frequently with high-ranking American officials and been received at
agencies from the State Department to the Pentagon.  In January, it was a
lunch with State's No. 2, James B. Steinberg, at the residence of the
American ambassador in Bogota. A few months before that, he had met Daniel
Restrepo, senior director for Western Hemisphere affairs at the National
Security Council, to discuss alleged abuses by Colombia's secret police.But
when Morris sought a U.S. student visa so he could take a fellowship for
journalists at Harvard University, his application was denied. He was
ineligible, U.S. officials told him, under the "terrorist activities"
section of the USA Patriot Act. The denial has incensed human rights
advocates in Washington, who have raised concerns that the Obama
administration has been influenced by Colombian President Álvaro Uribe's
government, a frequent target of Morris's critical reports.

Jameel Jaffer, an ACLU lawyer in New York, said the visa denial appeared to
be ideological, because no public information tying Morris to terrorism has
surfaced. Jaffer had litigated Bush administration exclusions of two
prominent Muslim academics, Adam Habib from South Africa and Tariq Ramadan,
a Swiss citizen who teaches at Oxford University. The Obama administration
rescinded those denials after judges ruled that the government had not made
a case for excluding the men. Jaffer said the Morris case "does raise
questions about whether the Obama administration has actually retired the
practice of ideological exclusions." In decades past, under a 1950s-era law
designed to limit the entry of communists and their supporters, the United
States barred prominent intellectuals including writers Doris Lessing and
Pablo Neruda.

The exact reason for Morris's denial is unclear. But on June 16, at the U.S.
Embassy in Bogota, Morris was given a "refusal worksheet" detailing how he
could be denied for engaging in terrorist acts or representing terrorist
organizations.  An embassy spokeswoman, Ana Duque, said that privacy rules
prevented U.S. officials from elaborating. "It's all between the applicant
and the consular section," Duque said.  Morris and those who support him,
including Human Rights Watch and the Nieman Foundation for journalists at
Harvard, contend that the Uribe administration orchestrated the denial
because of his work. Uribe has frequently accused Morris of ties to
Colombia's largest rebel group, calling him "an accomplice to terrorism" in
one speech last year.  Morris, in an interview Friday, said, "If you have
proof that I am a guerrilla, then why not put me in jail? Why just this
campaign to discredit?"  José Miguel Vivanco, director of Human Rights
Watch's Americas division, said there is evidence to show that Colombia's
intelligence agency, the Department of Administrative Security, or DAS,
"engaged in a deliberate effort to win cancellation of his visa by linking
Hollman Morris with the FARC," the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
Vice President Francisco Santos, asked to comment on the case, declined an
interview. According to documents prosecutors have made public, the DAS had
begun a campaign to discredit Morris by tying him to the FARC. Among the
strategies were plans to "press for the suspension of the visa."

The DAS's possible role in providing the United States with information on
Morris has raised concerns among some Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill
who work on American policy toward Colombia. A congressional aide who helps
shape Latin America policy said that "we have requested, with urgency, a
full intelligence briefing on the extremely serious allegations" against
Morris.  The aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not
authorized to publicly comment, said the lawmakers suspect "that the DAS
blackballed him because he dared to investigate DAS abuses, which now have
been verified and are widely known."

Morris, 41, who has done documentaries for the History Channel and European
television, said he has frequently met with the FARC as part of his work
reporting on the conflict. A series of e-mail conversations he held with top
commanders in 2004 -- and that were made public by Cambio magazine last year
-- indicate that Morris tried to sweet-talk them in order to get an
interview with a famous hostage the group was then holding, Ingrid
Betancourt.  Those e-mails seem to show a high level of confidence between
Morris and the hermetic FARC. But later emails show FARC commanders turning
on Morris, calling him a "coward" and "an opportunist."

American officials, meanwhile, have had only good things to say about
Morris, at least publicly.  After Human Rights Watch named Morris the "Human
Rights Watch Annual Defender" of 2007, R. Nicholas Burns and Paula
Dobriansky, both high-ranking State Department officials, met with him and
issued a news release expressing "great admiration for the courageous work"
he had undertaken.

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