One of the villains in “Public Demons,” the essay by José Rubén Zamora excerpted in PEN America 10: Fear Itself and reprinted in The Utne Reader, was indicted in U.S. federal court on money-laundering charges yesterday. Alfonso Portillo was the president of Guatemala from 2000 to 2004. “The day Portillo came to my house,” Zamora writes, “he offered me $600,000 not to send my family out of the country because this—in his words—would affect his image.” The military had just violently raided Zamora’s house, terrorizing his family, after Zamora published unflattering things about the government and the military.
In other legal news, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed orders effectively ending the exclusion of Tariq Ramadan from the United States last week, which should resolve a lawsuit filed by PEN together with the ACLU, the American Association of University Professors, and the American Academy of Religions. (Ramadan is pictured right, appearing via video at the PEN World Voices festival during his exclusion.)
In 2004 Ramadan was prevented from accepting a tenured position at the University of Notre Dame when the Department of Homeland Security refused his visa application. He had been to the U.S. many times before; in 2002 he participated in a conference hosted by former president (and PEN America contributor!) Bill Clinton called “Islam and America in a Global World.” The refusal of Ramadan’s re-entry into the United States was an example of “ideological exclusion,” a Cold War practice that was revived after 9/11.
And speaking of post-9/11 policies: On March 3, PEN and the ACLU will hold another “Reckoning with Torture” event, this time in Washington, D.C. The event we held in New York in October was attended by seven hundred people and presented, I think, a moving and powerful account of what has taken place in the name of the United States over the last eight years (video here).
By the way, PEN’s Freedom to Write director, Larry Siems, is writing an account of U.S. torture policy post-9/11 for the ACLU, and he’s presenting the work online as he writes it, posting his thoughts as he goes (like this take on John Yoo’s recent Daily Show appearance) and getting feedback from experts. Check out The Torture Report.