Scifi author Peter Watts beaten and arrested at the US border

Christ!!!:-(

This from Cory Doctorow on Boingboing:

My friend, the wonderful sf writer Peter Watts was beaten without provocation and arrested by US border guards on Tuesday. I heard about it early Wednesday morning in London and called Cindy Cohn, the legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. She worked her contacts to get in touch with civil rights lawyers in Michigan, and we mobilized with Caitlin Sweet (Peter's partner) and David Nickle (Peter's friend) and Peter was arraigned and bailed out later that day.

But now Peter faces a felony rap for "assaulting a federal officer" (Peter and the witness in the car say he didn't do a thing, and I believe them). Defending this charge will cost a fortune, and an inadequate defense could cost Peter his home, his livelihood and his liberty.


Peter's friends are raising money for his legal defense. I just sent him CAD$1,000, because this is absolutely my biggest nightmare: imprisoned in a foreign country for a trumped-up offense against untouchable border cops. I would want my friends to help me out if it ever happened to me.

Follow the link to read the whole story.

This is bad. . .

38 commentaires:

Anonymous said...

/awaits an impartial news source

Anonymous said...

Ever think youre only getting one side of the story Pat? Of course he and his friends are going to say hes innocent. Something had to start the confrontation.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the first two posters, we need to hear more f the story.

That being said, I'm a Michigander and can attest to the fact that the border security is out of control. The border guards seem to becoming more and more dickish each day. I go to Canada often(my dad lives there) and whenever I head back into the U.S. it takes hours and usually the border guards look for any excuse to search your car.

Neth said...

I have to agree about seeing the other side of the story. I certainly wouldn't donate any money without it. Since I don't know the guy personally, I have no point of reference.

With that said, my instinct is to not completely trust US Border Guards - which is a problem on so many levels.

Xander said...

If you read the whole story it says

"When Peter got out of the car and questioned the nature of the search,"

I cross the border like 2 or 3 times a week. If they are searching your car, don't get out and confront them. It's a bad idea.

I doubt he's going to get the full extent of the law, being a white middle class man. Maybe in the future he should consider his actions more carefully.

Anonymous said...

I've seen it different than previous posters. I know I and a friend of mine were turned away from what was to be a trip into Canada for no valid reason other than that we were 20 somethings and were going across to see what Canada was about. On the turn-around back through US customs they asked us how we enjoyed our trip and we told them of what occurred they stated that We, meaning the United States can't even do that. Just bar admittance for no good reason but that we can. Of course that was before 9/11. I'm sure things have changed. The point being, I very much doubt, with all the scrutiny the US is constantly under, that "nothing" happened to cause this is ridiculous. What a load of crap. Corey Doctorow? He writes about "big brother" right? Must have a new book coming out. $1000 cheap advertising I'd say. Get down on the wicked-evil US border agents. AND buy a Corey Doctorow book. What a load...

Anonymous said...

What annoys me is the boingboing article by Doctorow is EXACTLY the type of sensationalism that him and friends would mock.

The David Nickle part reads like a FOX news article.

Marc said...

Years ago, when I was 21 (way back in 1991!) I spent the summer at my mom's place in Upstate New York. I had to head back to Colorado for my senior year of college, but first arranged to meet my friend in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. He had relatives there, and we could get a last few days of relaxation on the lake before school started.

I enjoy visiting Canada, so I drove west Buffalo, and crossed over the border in that area. I took the Trans-Canada Highway up to Sault Saint Marie, where I crossed back into the US and drove through the UP of Michigan down into Wisconsin, spending the night at Escanaba.

At Sault Saint Marie, I was one of the only cars making the border crossing. The border agents were bored, and insisted on checking my car VERY carefully. They spent around half an hour taking everything out and looking through all my stuff. The only "substance" I had was a case of Canadian beer, purchased legally in Canada. One guard asked me repeatedly if I ever smoked marijuana with my friends at school. The guards finally gave up and let me proceed after about 45 minutes of fruitless searching and questioning.

Years later, I was driving from Regina, Saskatchewan down the 6 to the US border in Montana. I arrived at the border in desperate need of a restroom. When the agents approached me, I asked where the facilities were, and ran to them at top speed! I may have looked suspicious, but they hardly questioned me and didn't search my car at all. They essentially just waved me through.

Ever since then, I have wondered why the Michigan border guards were such a-holes, while the Montana ones were so laid back. I realize I dealt with just four men among thousands, but the contrast was stark.

Morrigan said...

There might indeed be more to the story, but then again, border guards and customs officers can be such a bunch of power-tripping douchebags with chips on their shoulders, that my first instinct is to side with the accused.

Neth said...

Here's the story from Peter Watts' blog

It's looking more and more like all he did was question the guards (as his rights allow him to). And the guards got on a violent power trip after having their actions questioned.

Adam Whitehead said...

"I doubt he's going to get the full extent of the law, being a white middle class man. Maybe in the future he should consider his actions more carefully."

Translation: do not question the State. The State is never wrong. The State is all-powerful. The State is incapable of error. You have no right to question the State. You have no freedom to stand up for your rights. COMPLY.

The United States: the land of the free. Once upon a time.

Anonymous said...

So far all we have are the defence of the accused and one of his closest friends. So lets save on the OMG BIG BROTHER Doctorow propaganda


As for your commentary on the US Wert, your middle class white Britain, what the hell would you know.

Adam Whitehead said...

"So far all we have are the defence of the accused and one of his closest friends. So lets save on the OMG BIG BROTHER Doctorow propaganda"

We have character witness statements from several people. We have the defence of the accused. We have multiple accounts of the problems people have at the border crossings. We have the history of eight years of this bullshit now.

People running around waving the 9/11 card to excuse the most insane reductions in civil liberties. It is frankly unacceptable in any modern democracy, not to mention completely and totally useless. Not one single act taken by the Department of Homeland Security would have prevented 9/11 (whose perpetrators were in the USA with fully legal visas and driving licenses).

The police have to be kept in check otherwise their position of power can be corrupting. That is seen all round the world every day. The last time the British police had to police a major demonstration in London they resorted to disproportionate means, beat up people standing around doing nothing and even hit an old man walking down the street, who later had a heart attack and died. The difference there is that they were caught on CCTV and those officers responsible now face the law themselves.

The notion you shouldn't challenge or question authority when it is used in an unacceptable or even illegal manner is ridiculous.

"As for your commentary on the US Wert, your middle class white Britain, what the hell would you know."

This statement is so devoid of intelligence I don't even know what it means.

Xander said...

"Translation: do not question the State. The State is never wrong. The State is all-powerful. The State is incapable of error. You have no right to question the State. You have no freedom to stand up for your rights. COMPLY."

That's ridiculous, the translation is simply, if you have a question against the state do so in a proper manner through appropriate channels. Jumping out of your car, and haranguing a border patrol officer is not one of those methods.If you go to the web page you will see there are proper avenues to do so.

Xander said...

"Peter, a Canadian citizen, was on his way back to Canada after helping a friend move house to Nebraska over the weekend. He was stopped at the border crossing at Port Huron, Michigan by U.S. border police for a search of his rental vehicle."

Let me understand this correctly, he was on his way back to Canada, stopped at the border, and was searched by US Border Guards entering Canada?

When you enter Canada, you are usually searched by Canadian Border guards... something doesn't add up here.

Anonymous said...

As I understand it, he was at some sort of in-country checkpoint, not a border crossing?


Even so, he must have crossed into the country somehow to get to Nebraska, so why didn't this occur then as well?

Also, not every country in the world requires you to stay in your car and shut up when approached by law officers. And even the US doesn't allow said officers to beat the crap out of you over verbal objections, or even ignoring a lawful order, which also does not, in my understanding of the legalities, qualify as "assaulting a federal officer".

But I am not an expert on border law, nor was I present, so whatever.

Myshkin said...

I know it's fun to "fight the power" and all that, and I'm not personally a huge fan of cops, but I find it EXTREMELY hard to believe that Watts was "beaten" and arrested for no other reason than asking a few polite questions.

"Translation: do not question the State. The State is never wrong. The State is all-powerful. The State is incapable of error. You have no right to question the State. You have no freedom to stand up for your rights. COMPLY."

Wert no one is saying not to question. You have the right to question. But realize that the border patrol has the right to search your fucking car. And if you're gonna get out and get belligerent (which seems much more likely to be the case here), be prepared for the consequences. The border patrol (and cops in general) ask you to stay in your car for a reason: their safety. If, IF, Watts got belligerent, even if in only a verbal manner, those boarder guards had every reason to take him down.

I think I'll wait for the full story before I send this guy any of my money. Generally speaking, and contrary to popular opinion, cops in the US don't usually beat and arrest people just for the fun of it.

MrLoopie said...

For those that are waiting for the other side of the story, you will never get it. IF you do get anything it will be exactly what you would expect...the opposite of what he is saying.

Adam Whitehead said...

Watts was not stopped by American border personnel because he wasn't at the border (although he was close) and because he was crossing into Canada, not from Canada into the USA. The US border patrol does not search and stop outbound vehicles because to do so would be pointless (the Canadians are going to have to do it again just five minutes later) and insanely time-consuming.

According to one of the commentators on Watts' blog, Watts was actually stopped at a Department of Homeland Security 'internal checkpoint' which is not covered by the usually extremely strict rules governing border crossings. These checkpoints are fairly contentious, but one thing they are definitely not is an official border crossing. This one was located outside of the border control zone in Port Huron, Michigan. Since I can't find additional web sources for that, I'll take that on trust for now.

If Watts was outside the border control zone the authorities can only stop him if they present probable cause, and if the other reports are accurate, they didn't have anything to back that up. I agree leaping out of your car and refusing to get back in is not a good idea in this situation, but the fact it wasn't at the border crossing and these weren't border guards does appear to be a major factor in the situation. If they were and it was, then I imagine Watts (a frequent US-Canada traveller, I believe, given his active status in American SF fandom) would have indeed sat there and shut up.

Anonymous said...

http://www.thetimesherald.com/article/20091211/NEWS01/91211010/Science+fiction+writer+charged+after+bridge+struggle

i am very familiar with this border crossing and have even been pulled aside for further questioning a few times and never had any problems. but then again i did follow instructions.

Adam Whitehead said...

New information from the police which alledges that Watts 'chocked' an arresting officer:

http://www.thetimesherald.com/article/20091211/NEWS01/91211010/1002/Science+fiction+writer+charged+after+bridge+struggle

The article also indicates that the incident did take place on the bridge crossing point and not at a HS internal checkpoint. I have asked for clarification on that point on Watts' blog as that seems to be a major point of importance.

Xander said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Xander said...

This does suck though, the charges are fairly egregious. It's to prevent overzealous acts like this, that I am in law school.

If there is a little hope, it's in the fact that there might be a 1983 action here, so he might be able to recoup the cost of his lawyer fees etc

Adam Whitehead said...

The official police report interestingly says that Watts was 'entering' the USA. Watts was, however, leaving the country after spending a week with friends in Nebraska.

I imagine this is very easy to verify (if nothing else, all his friends commenting in the thread knew about the trip beforehand and he had blogged about it last week, ignoring witness statements and the original records of him entering the US last week), and if so the police's account of events could be immediately damaged by this verifiable falsehood.

brian said...

I sympathize with the Guards because its such a thankless job. Everyone thinks your an A-Hole, and nobody thinks they should have to be stopped and checked. Did the guards overreact...maybe. But this is what I know.

1) If he would have stayed in his car none of this would happened.

2) Subduing and arresting someone who doesn't want to be subdued and arrested is NOT the most graceful thing in the world.

They can't let everyone get out and walk around asking questions. The line would never move. I'm sure that while he was "politely" asking his questions, he was also being asked to get back into his car. Refusing to get back into your car will get you arrested, even for a minor traffic violation.

Now this isn't a boxing match to be fought fairly. The Border Guards don't know who you or anyone else are. They can't read minds. They don't have a crystal ball. They don't know if that person is hopped up on drugs, or if they have needles, razors, knives or guns on them. All they knew at the time was that this guy wasn't cooperating and wouldn't get back into his car.

So for their safety and every man, woman, and child waiting in line behind them, the safest thing to do is get that person in 'cuffs as soon as possible. Like I said before it's not the most graceful thing in the world, if you resist you're probably going to get a couple bumps.

After all that if that person does happen to be smuggling drugs, or they're armed or something like that no one cares. But if the guy just happens to have a Jesus Christ image of himself, and doesn't feel like he should be bothered at the border crossing, then everyone thinks the guards are A-Holes. See a thankless job...

This entire incident happened because he wouldn't get back into his F-ing car. So excuse me if I don't feel sorry for this idiot, and spend my money someplace else...

Adam Whitehead said...

There was no-one waiting in line behind him.

He was leaving the United States and pulled over without any explanation. In most countries (and I know this is not the case in the USA, but I don't know about Canada), it is illegal for law enforcement officials to stop you going about your business without clearing explaining to you why they are stopping you and what the situation is. If they did this, and by all accounts so far they did not, and then he went ballistic at them, then fair enough.

As has been frequently reported, and ignored by most commentators, interestingly, this was not a standard border crossing situation, and the fact that the person being stopped wanted to know what was going on is understandable, even if his actions were unwise.

Roland said...

I am still to read any real *facts* concerning this situation. I mean, so far there's Doctorow's obviously biased post, and some reports that are contradicting each other. I don't really feel comfortable about border patrols, but I feel even less comfortable accepting they could be above-the-law thugs without any sufficient provocation. And by the way, what does "beaten" even mean in this situation? Did they push him around? Did they hit him anywhere? So far this thing is being blown out of proportion in every possible direction without anyone knowing what actually happend.

Anonymous said...

I hope next time brian goes through the border somebody decide that he is suspicious and deserves a full body cavity search.

You know, he could hide a bomb up the rear chute, think of the children and all the other people waiting in line...

They left Watts go with only an assault charge: that's code for "cops trying to cover their asses"...

Adam Whitehead said...

"And by the way, what does "beaten" even mean in this situation? Did they push him around? Did they hit him anywhere?"

As claimed by Watts, the police punched him, pushed him to the ground and pepper-sprayed him. He was quite specific on this point.

Roland said...

I find this REALLY hard to believe. I'm not saying the guy is necessarily lying, but...

Anonymous said...

Lucky you were there Wert





Oh wait............

Kesera said...

I find it really easy to believe Watts' version of events. Once again we have the lowest common denominators of society (basically high school thugs) abusing power in the name of the state and security. Scr3w your rights. He is well within his rights to ask what the reason for being stopped was.

It's so great we have so many defenders of the "Hey, we're the state, we can do what we want, just bend over and take it with a smile! Now!" Especially 'cos they're so willing to put their names down. I really hope these douchebag "police" get some serious repercussion from this. Civil liberties my @$$.

Blend said...

"Lucky you were there Wert

Oh wait............"

You gotta love it when idiots like this have nothing better to do then to bash someone who's presenting an actually intelligent argument... and then don't even have the guts to post under an actual name... Mr. Anonymous, if you're going to be an asshole, at least let us know who you are, so we can flame you properly.

Adam Whitehead said...

"I find this REALLY hard to believe. I'm not saying the guy is necessarily lying, but..."

...but when you use the word 'but', you are saying he could be lying.

Interesting, as I believed that it was traditional to assume innocence and try to prove guilt rather than the reverse (recalling that the legal charge is by the border guards against Watts for assaulting an officer; if it was vice versa, the burden of proof would then indeed be on Watts).

Well, I suppose he could be lying. It would be extraordinarily unwise to do so given the existence of CCTV footage of the incident (which has now been handed over to the courts) and multiple witnesses, but it is not outside the boundaries of possibility. Maybe we'll be back here in a few weeks wondering why he attacked half a dozen armed men with his bare hands on camera. But I have to say I rather doubt it.

Another intriguing factor that has come up is that the border guards - federal employees - have not pursued the matter at a federal level as you would expect if a federal officer had been attacked in full view of video cameras and multiple witnesses, and instead turned the whole matter over to the local police instead. I wonder what the reasoning for that was?

Anonymous said...

The vast majority of crimes that could be charges as federal offenses are handled under state law. It's called concurrent jurisdiction. Both state and federal law covers it, but the feds only get it if they want it, which they very rarely do. Its not unusual at all for this kind of thing to be handled by state law. It would be unusual if it was in federal court.

Also, while he was booked on a felony, that doesn't mean it will be charged as one. Police Officers often book people under felony code sections, but are then formally charged with misdemeanors prosecutor filing the case.

I suspect, from having ready many, many police reports, is that Mr. Watts got out of the car and was upset, refused to listen to the officer, and things got worse from there.

Upset people and cops trying to make them do something don't mix well.

However, having not seen the police reports or any tapes, I can't really make any judgements yet.

The Martin said...

Oh come on.

Anyone who crossed the US border will tell you how much of an assholes US border guards typically are. Not all of them mind you, but the majority are like pitbulls with rabies. This is coming from someone who crossed the border at least 50 times.

And it got much worse after 9/11. I always listened to the border guards, but fuck me if they were anything but welcoming, courteous and borderline polite. I'm not saying Americans are like that, but compare the attitude of Canadian and US border patrols and you'll be glad to come home in Canada.

So, this whole story ain't surprising at all. Sad, but most likely true.

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Leonard Okoth said...

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