By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Tag: Adam Habib

A morally repugnant ban against a journalist

Hollman Morris

This past March, Media Nation celebrated when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reversed a Bush-era ban on South African scholar Adam Habib, who had been prevented from traveling to the United States on unproven and undocumented charges that he was somehow tied to terrorism.

Now the Obama administration — and Clinton’s State Department — are doing what appears to be exactly the same thing to Hollman Morris, a Colombian journalist. Morris, the Washington Post reports, was recently denied a visa to enter the United States so that he could spend a year at Harvard University as a Nieman Fellow.

Morris is not exactly a favorite of Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, a right-wing strongman with a miserable human-rights record. The Uribe government has accused Morris of playing nice with the FARC, a left-wing guerrilla movement whose viciousness is beyond question, and which the U.S. government regards as a terrorist organization. By most accounts, though, Morris is guilty of nothing but practicing journalism — which, in Uribe’s eyes, is bad enough.

Not to get all conspiratorial, but it should be noted that the Clintons have longstanding ties to Uribe. In fact, when then-presidential candidate Clinton’s chief political strategist, Mark Penn, was thrown overboard in April 2008, it was over his own unsavory dealings with the Uribe government.

What makes the ban against Morris especially repugnant is that, according to the Spanish news agency EFE, his and his family’s safety has been threatened, and he has been living “under protection” for quite some time. Now the Obama White House has placed him in even greater peril. Fortunately, Morris is currently traveling in Europe, and it sounds like he has no plans to return home anytime soon.

The ban against Habib appeared to be based on nothing more than his outspoken opposition to the war in Iraq — hardly a novel view. The exclusion prevented Habib from speaking at an academic conference in Boston, a circumstance that led to a 2008 Boston Phoenix Muzzle Award for Condoleezza Rice and Michael Chertoff, then the secretaries of state and homeland security, respectively.

Likewise, in the absence of any evidence from the Obama administration, it appears that the ban against Morris is motivated by nothing more than a desire not to offend Uribe and the incoming president, Uribe protégé Juan Manuel Santos. Needless to say, Hillary Clinton is an early contender for a 2011 Muzzle.

More coverage: Nieman Foundation curator Robert Giles recently wrote an op-ed piece for the Los Angeles Times on Morris’ behalf. The Boston Globe editorialized against the ban. Joshua Benton of the Nieman Journalism Lab has a good round-up of other coverage. And we discussed the Morris case last Friday on “Beat the Press,” on WGBH-TV (Channel 2).

A South African scholar is un-Muzzled

Adam Habib

In October 2006, a South African scholar named Adam Habib, a frequent visitor to the United States, was detained at JFK Airport, questioned about his political beliefs and hustled out of the country.

Habib later learned that the Bush administration had decided, on the basis of no apparent evidence, that he had ties to terrorism. More likely his exclusion was based on his outspoken opposition to the war in Iraq.

Habib’s ordeal led me to bestow a 2008 Phoenix Muzzle Award upon then-secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and then-secretary of homeland security Michael Chertoff for exploiting the vast, vague powers they had been granted after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in order to silence a prominent critic. Among other things, their actions forced Habib — who received his Ph.D. from City University of New York — to cancel an appearance at an academic conference in Boston on Aug. 1 of that year.

Now Habib is once again free to travel to the United States. In January, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed an order clearing Habib, a sociology professor at the University of Johannesburg, and Tariq Ramadan, a professor of St. Antony’s College, part of Oxford University, in response to a legal action brought by the ACLU and several other organizations.

Habib is currently on a 19-day tour of the U.S. that will bring him to Harvard Law School this Wednesday, an appearance being co-sponsored by the ACLU of Massachusetts. In an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education, Habib praises Clinton’s decision, but urges the Obama administration to end his predecessor’s policy of “ideological exclusion.” Chronicle reporter Peter Schmidt writes:

“It is absolutely incumbent on the Obama administration to follow through on these tentative steps” and “withdraw all of the practices of ideological exclusion that emerged during this period,” Mr. Habib said. Noting how President Obama was himself shaped by living abroad as a child, Mr. Habib said, “It would be a failing of his own history, his own awakening, of his own historical roots, for him not to follow through on these tentative steps.”

Unfortunately, as is frequently the case in these situations, Habib’s voice was stifled when we most needed to hear him speak.

University of Johannesburg photo via the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén