Huffpost Media
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Jayne Lyn Stahl Headshot

British Author Barred for "Moral Turpitude"

Posted: Updated:

Something we don't hear about enough from the mainstream media, thanks to the cat fight that has become the Democratic Party nomination process, is not only what we are doing to our detainees, who's giving the thumbs-up to do it, but also this administration's quiet jihad against foreign scholars, and writers.

Those who enter our borders for the purpose of giving readings, attending festivals, or otherwise entertaining us are treated in a most inhospitable, and often egregious, way. Such is the case with a British author who, last month, took a flight across the pond for the sole purpose of doing a reading to launch his recently published memoir. PEN American Center reports that Sebastian Horsley, author of "Dandy in the Underworld," flew from London's Heathrow Airport to Newark Liberty International Airport where he was denied entry into the United States.

"It is of course a matter of grave concern to us when a writer is exluded from the United States after searching his writings and statements for grounds of inadmissibility," PEN says in a press release. Indeed, it is a matter of concern for all of us who love literature and free speech. It is of even graver concern when customs officials take it upon themselves to become the arbiters of what constitutes right conduct or principles.

Think about what it must be like to book a flight to make an appearance, know that lots of people are waiting to hear what you have to say, spend 8 to 12 hours on an airplane, exit in a foreign land, and be greeted by some guys in customs who pull you over because they don't like the way you look. On March 18th, this is, reportedly, what happened to Mr. Horsley.

When Horsley explained that he is a writer, Horsley was detained for hours while officials Googled him, and searched the Internet to find as much of his writing as possible to use as incriminating evidence. They also allegedly spoke with him at length, got him to admit his previous involvement with "drug use and prostitution" and, on the basis of this, he was denied entry into this country. The stated reason for the denial: "moral turpitude."

Yes, a bad case of "MT" kept a noteworthy, and much-anticipated author from attending a major literary festival scheduled for the end of April, in New York, despite the fact that he, ostensibly, no criminal charges have ever been leveled against Sebastian Horsley.

What noxious irony. Reading about his plight, this morning, I couldn't help but think about what "moral turpitude" means, and how we can be audacious enough to call anyone else base or depraved especially in light of ABC News' stunning recent revelations that the highest level of government was involved in orchestrating a systematic program of prisoner abuse which received an enthusiastic thumbs-up, back in 2002, from the President's key henchmen -- Messrs. Cheney, Tenet, Powell, and Madame Rice, all except, of course, for then attorney-general, John Ashcroft, a program we now know that Mr. Bush personally signed off on. Excuse me, but we let these guys pass through customs, and not an author who may, at worst, be accused of dandyism?

But, can somebody explain how what happened at Abu Ghraib can be described as anything other than "moral depravity?" What do you call setting a dog on someone, or holding their hooded head down, while pouring water on them, to simulate drowning? Moral virtue?

Yes, this group of "elitists," Cheney, Rice, Powell, Ashcroft, met often, back in 2002, to discuss what interrogation tactics they could use, as well as how many times they could use it, on a case by case basis. Then National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice chaired the committee and, in the face of growing opposition from then Secretary of State Colin Powell, acted as a cheerleader, encouraging the CIA with statements like "This is your baby. Go do it." Now that she is at the helm of the State Department, we'd like to hear what Condi Rice has to say about her department's recent practice of banning not just this one British author, but any who come from countries we now label "axis of evil," and/or whose opinions are deemd to be controversial?

A memo written in October, 2001, which is still classified, is said to detail unprecedented ways in which the military may be used domestically to protect the U.S. against itself, or to stifle dissent against what has become a top-down authoritarian state. J. Edgar Hoover would be very impressed.
But, how can it be called anything less than perverse, and depraved, when practices which most of the so-called civilized world has, for generations, considered torture are ratified in the White House; still, no one has charged anyone in this administration with "moral turpitude." Indeed, how would Mr. Cheney or Ms. Rice feel if, after retiring from government, and writing the inevitable memoir, they are denied entrance into a foreign country based on "moral turpitude?" Yes, that's right, and in this case, it would even be justifiable.

Yes, way back when those Situation Room meetings took place, in which Mr. Bush's advisors met to approve torture, John Ashcroft was outraged that they were holding meetings in the White House, no less. "History will not judge this kindly," the former attorney-general said.

But, how will history will judge those customs officials, in New Jersey, who singled out a British author, and refused to admit him based on his discussion of past drug use, and dalliance with prostitutes, what they call his "moral turpitude?" And, how will history judge those other prominent writers from Iran, and other officially verboten countries, who are routinely denied entrance for a host of reasons, but mainly to suppress the free flow of information, and do to the First Amendment what was done to those unfortunate enough to find themselves at Abu Ghraib.

How dare U.S. customs agents detain a foreign writer at one of our airports, subject him to hours of torturous interrogation, use his written works as ammunition against him, and then refuse to admit him to the country all because they consider him morally unfit. What an insult to civilization.

Barring British author Sebastian Horsley from entering the U.S. denies him the right to participate in an important festival, but it also sends a clear message just how perverse a nation we've become, as well as how far we've strayed from a free, and open society.

This absurd notion of customs enforcement demeans us as a principled country, one that respects the value of the world of letters, as well as the rule of law.