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Stars earn their stripes


Los Angeles: As a new McCarthyism arises in America, Hollywood is getting more jingoistic

by Ros Davidson


The Sunday Herald (Scotland) November 11, 2001
Centre for Research on Globalisation (CRG),  globalresearch.ca, 13 November 2001


Two months after September 11, America has undergone a truly remarkable change. Hollywood stars and scriptwriters are rushing to bolster the new message of patriotism, conferring with the CIA and brainstorming with the military about possible real-life terrorist attacks. Secret detentions are sky-rocketing, there are increasing curbs on privacy and dissent, and media outlets are self-censoring their coverage of Afghanistan. Since the attacks, more than 1100 people have been held without criminal charges and often on the basis of scant evidence.

Undernew law-enforcement measures, investigators can now monitor talks between detainees -- whose names and alleged crimes are classified -- and their lawyers. Wire- tapping, e-mail surveillance and searches are far easier under the Patriot Act, signed into law a fortnight ago .

FBI agents told The Washington Post that they have considered using a so-called truth serum to crack the silence of recalcitrant suspects. They have also considered deporting detained foreigners to countries that use torture.

In one case, a young environmentalist called Neil Godfrey was barred from boarding a flight in Philadelphia. National Guard members and police officers scrutinised his books at length, including a Harry Potter novel.

The heads of the Warner Brothers television studio and of the CBS and Fox broadcasting networks have been among entertainment figures to have met White House representatives to find out how best to spread the US government's anti- terrorism message .

Actor Tom Cruise is so concerned about his upcoming role as a CIA agent in Mission: Impossible III that he became one of many Hollywood actors who have met agents from the Central Intelligence Agency. A Hollywood source told MSNBC.com: 'He was emphatic about presenting the CIA in as positive a light as possible.'

Especially busy is the Institute for Creative Studies at the University of Southern California, which received funding of $45 million (31m) from the US army in 1999. At the little-known think tank, top Hollywood talent secretly meet military officials to speculate about future attacks. One of the few members named publicly, by the Hollywood newspaper Daily Variety, is Steven de Souza, co-writer of the hit 1988 action movie Die Hard.

Michael Macedonia -- of the army's Simulation, Training and Instrumentation Command -- said: 'You're talking about screenwriters and producers. These are very brilliant, creative people. They can come up with fascinating insights very quickly.'

CNN recently ordered correspondents not to dwell on civilian casualties in Afghanistan. And when Bill Maher, host of the television show Politically Incorrect, said the World Trade Centre terrorists might be braver than the US military, his ABC network boss Michael Eisner reprimanded him. Several TV affiliates dropped the show and Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer warned that, in times like these, 'people have to watch what they say and watch what they do'.

The mood of new McCarthyism is sinister, warned Aaron Sorkin, creator of the acclaimed political drama The West Wing. At a seminar on Hollywood post-September 11, he said: 'We've heard this before, right? In the '50s, there was a blacklist and it ruined lives. It is important right now that there be dissent. Let's remember the values we are protecting in the first place.'

The American Association of University Professors has also called for an end to an atmosphere where thinking out loud is seen as subversive. Its plea followed several incidents in which academics were reprimanded for expressing allegedly unpatriotic views.

On Friday, The Washington Post revealed a new government rule approved on an emergency basis in late October by Attorney General John Ashcroft . Laura Murphy of the American Civil Liberties Union said: 'It's a terrifying precedent. The idea that this could be happening to innocent people is really disturbing.' Under the move, a federal 'taint team' can eavesdrop on talks between prison inmates and their lawyers . Inmates' mail can also be intercepted .

Irwin Schwartz, president of the National Association of Criminal Defence Lawyers, said: 'If we can't speak with a client confidentially, we might not speak with him at all.' His group will challenge the rule in court.

There have been extensions to special measures approved after the 1993 World Trade Centre bombing and the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. Solitary confinement and restrictions on visitors can now be imposed for a year, rather than for 120 days. The new anti-terrorism law has given the government sweeping new police powers to conduct secret searches or to tap phones with only a suspicion of crime, rather than the previous, far stricter standard of 'probable cause'.

Intelligence agents may seize medical and student records or track someone's credit-card purchases or cash transactions of more than $10,000 (6870). Any US attorney can now approve the FBI launching its 'Carnivore' internet surveillance system to monitor a suspect's web surfing.

In the last eight weeks, an estimated 1147 people have been detained in the nationwide hunt for terrorists. The Department of Justice has refused to say how many have since been released or to reveal their names or, in some cases, even the names of their lawyers .

Ken Gude, a policy analyst for the Centre for National Security Studies in Washington DC said: 'It's a very serious shift in policy and in American culture. We're getting to the point where it's guilt by association.'

Most detainees are foreigners in their twenties and thirties from Arab or other Muslim countries, according to a recent Washington Post survey.

In one incident, a man named Osama Elfar was arrested as he left work and held on a minor immigration charge. He passed a lie- detector test and gave agents permission to search his apartment and computer.

He insisted he has no sympathy for Osama bin Laden. Two weeks later, Elfar is still being held without bail. The FBI noted in a recent affidavit that it has been 'unable to rule out the possibility that Elfar is linked to or possesses knowledge of the terrorist attacks'.

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