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Liberty in the Balance: Security Collides with Civil Liberties

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We talk to Sacramento Bee reporter Emily Bazar about her paper’s muli-part series examining post 9/11 civil liberties issues. We speak to Bazar at the UNITY 2004 conference. [includes rush transcript]

We are broadcasting from the UNITY journalism conference here in Washington DC, which is sponsored by the 4 leading journalist of color organizations-the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Association of Asian American Journalists and the Native American Journalists Association. There are some 7,500 journalists here. In fact it is the largest conference of journalists in the history of the United States. Today Demiocratic Presidential candidate John Kerry addresses the conference, as well as General Colin Powell. Tomorrow, President Bush will be here.

One of the journalists we met yesterday is Emily Bazar, who covers immigration issues for the Sacremento Bee. She was one of the lead writers on a major series the paper did last September called “Liberty in the Balance” which examines the increased powers of the federal government in the aftermath of 9-eleven. Emily Bazar joins us here in our Washington DC studio.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Emily Bazer joins us here in the Washington, D.C., studios. Welcome.

EMILY BAZER: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to have you with us. Can you talk about some of the cases that you have been following?

EMILY BAZER: Absolutely. It’s a wide variety of people whose lives have been affected. Citizens and non-citizens alike. One of the most interesting cases was an immigrant — an Iranian immigrant in the Sacramento area. It turns out that some of the cases were in Northern California because that’s where we’re based but we were looking nationwide. Kourosh Gholamshahi, he was an Iranian immigrant came to the United States in 1989 and applied for asylum. He said he was Bahi and he would be persecuted if he returned to Iran. His asylum claim was denied, but he decided to stay in the United States regardless, illegally. He ended up staying, working odd jobs. He married an American woman, but then in June of 2002, he got a knock on the door. It was immigration officials who picked him up, and keep in mind this man has no criminal history whatsoever, no known terrorist ties, really no reason to be considered a threat for any — for any reason at all. He was just basically picked up and taken to a string of jails. Nine months he — he was held for 11 months. Nine months of that time he was in the Sacramento County Jail and housed with criminals in 22-hour lockdown. One of the things for advocates for him were saying that, yes, maybe the government did have the right to detain him, but that they were being very extreme in this case, and in a lot of other cases of middle eastern immigrants and choosing, picking people based on their race or ethnicity such as Kourosh. The punishment didn’t fit the violation in this case. He was held for eleven months. Last year he was released pending an appeal in the Ninth Circuit.


EMILY BAZER: Still pending.

AMY GOODMAN: What is it like for you as an Iranian American journalist to look into these cases? Did you have reservations or did this make you particularly interested?

EMILY BAZER: It made me particularly interested. Before 9/11 and actually when 9/11 happened, I was covering politics out of The Sacramento Bee’s capital bureau. And when 9/11 happened and a lot of these backlash crimes were happening and then a lot of these policies came out that were targeted almost specifically at people from North Africa, South Asia, the Middle East, I was very frustrated that I couldn’t write about these things. I was kind of writing about state politics so I managed to find a way to cover immigration and write about things because it affects my life so personally. My parents came to the United States in 1969. We’re all citizens but still something that I am keenly aware of. 27:08

AMY GOODMAN: Was your family concerned about you starting to take on these issues?

EMILY BAZER: A little bit. My mom — more concerned that after 9/11, for instance, they were concerned that —- my mother called me in tears one day and told me not to go out, that she was afraid that something would happen to me. But actually, they have been very supportive throughout all of this, and in fact -—

AMY GOODMAN: In fact, she had had reason to be afraid at that point?

EMILY BAZER: Exactly. Exactly. She works at a hospital in Southern California. One of her colleague, who is Egyptian, a pathologist at the hospital, her brother a week after 9/11 owned a store in San Gabriel in Southern California. He was shot and killed. It was thought initially to be one of the backlash hate crimes. My mother — that’s why my mother called me in tears. You know, I told her, well, don’t worry, Mom, it’s okay. You know, since then — since then they have been incredibly supportive, because they’re concerned about what’s happening.

AMY GOODMAN: Your stories covered immigrants, people who had become citizen, who hadn’t become citizens, but also people who were born here.

EMILY BAZER: Absolutely.

AMY GOODMAN: You talk about librarians, for example.

EMILY BAZER: Librarians have been among the strongest opponents of the U.S.A. Paltologist act and other of these — Patriot Act, and other of these policies that have come down since 9/11. One of the interesting things we have found it’s not just librarians in big cities or places where there’s a large population. We found a librarian in Woodland, a semi-rural community a half hour out of north Sacramento. The librarian there is just an outspoken spitfire who decided that she was going to take a stand. She held public talks. She ordered a shredder, and so there wouldn’t be a paper trail of what people would be checking out. She said if necessary, she would be willing to go to jail if the government came to here and demanded records.

AMY GOODMAN: The picture that you have in the Sacramento Bee of Marie Bryant, she looks a little like Tyne Daly.

EMILY BAZER: She doesn’t look like what you would expect of an activist. Librarians across the country have been taking this on.

AMY GOODMAN: You also talk about a multimillionaire.

EMILY BAZER: Yes. John Gilmore is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur. He has founded a group called, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is concerned about privacy issues, the internet and other technologies. He is suing John Ashcroft over the ability to travel without having to show your I.D. He believes that Americans have a right to travel without being kind of interrogated at every step, and that everybody should have to go through the same security checks, and — but that they don’t have to — they shouldn’t have to give an id — I.D. and tell the government exactly where they’re going and at what times. He also is — he is interesting. He has been very active. He wore a pin on a flight last year that said, suspected terrorist, and he wore it on a British Airways flight to London. He tried to wear it. And he got on the plane in San Francisco, somehow the captain found out about this and would not take off. And he demanded that he take off his pin. He refused, and was kicked off the flight. A couple of weeks later, he did the same thing. He rebooked on Virgin Airlines. He wore the pin and made it all the way to London, without incident.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, it sounds like, though, if he’s not willing to show his I.D., he doesn’t fly very much.

EMILY BAZER: I do think he ends up showing his I.D. because he has to. He did say — actually, you’re right. He did say, now that I recall, he does not fly domestically, internationally, though, there’s very little other options to get overseas, but within the country he uses other modes of transportation.

AMY GOODMAN: What did it take for The Sacramento Bee to make this commitment? It’s a big series, Liberty in the Balance. What was the response of readers?

EMILY BAZER: The response was huge. It was not local only. There was a huge local response, but we have gotten emails and letters from New Zealand from the U.K., from New York, from Texas. A lot from Texas, surprisingly. Good and bad. Overwhelmingly good, actually, but also people who said, you know, what’s wrong with you, are you paranoid, do you sleep with aluminum foil on your head, you know, but it was a very tough decision to make, actually. I think this is not just ra-ra for my paper — it was a very tough decision for the executive editor to make. It was around the time the beginning of the Iraq war. He had to decide whether or not to send a reporter from The Sacramento Bee which is not a huge newspaper like The New York Post or The Washington Times. He made a decision which was not popular, and decided not to send a reporter. He wanted to look at the policies domestically, how they have affected people domestically since 9/11 rather than maybe using a lot of resources to not get as good a story in Iraq if we were going to be embedded. AMY GOODMAN: We’re here at the UNITY conference. EMILY BAZER: Yes. AMY GOODMAN: The largest gathering of North American journalists ever, and it’s sponsored by the four major journalists of color organizations. You had a real multiracial staff working on this.

EMILY BAZER: Absolutely.

AMY GOODMAN: You start with the editor, Rick Rodriguez. He is here, actually, at the conference.

EMILY BAZER: Yes, her here.

AMY GOODMAN: Your photographer.

EMILY BAZER: Paul Kitagaki. He is of Japanese decent. His parents were interned in World War II. And Sam Stanton who was the main writer for most of the pieces here.

AMY GOODMAN: And of course you.


AMY GOODMAN: There is a large Iranian population in your area. Isn’t there?

EMILY BAZER: In our area, not as much as there is in Southern California. That’s the biggest concentration of Iranians outside of Iran. There’s a decent amount and a largest number of Afghan people in the Fremont area in Northern California. That’s the biggest concentration, I think, in the country.

AMY GOODMAN: Emily Bazer, I want to thank you very much for being with us.

EMILY BAZER: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: I hope that you can make it back to the John Kerry speech at the Washington convention center. They’re locking down early today.

EMILY BAZER: Thank you. I’ll try.

AMY GOODMAN: Emily Bazer of The Sacramento Bee you can go online and see the series called, Liberty in the Balance. The website —

EMILY BAZER: — is To get to the project, you can put, and then click on Liberty in the Balance.

AMY GOODMAN: Thank you very much. This is Democracy Now!

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