Film­maker un­rav­el­ling trav­el­ling mys­tery

Os­car win­ner was de­tained in U.S. air­ports fre­quently

The Chatham Daily News - - NEWS - DEB RIECHMANN

WASH­ING­TON — Laura Poitras’ travel night­mare be­gan more than a decade ago when the award-win­ning film­maker started get­ting de­tained at air­ports ev­ery time she tried to re­turn the United States.

She was stopped more than 50 times on for­eign travel, and dozens more times on do­mes­tic trips, be­fore the searches sud­denly stopped in 2012. Now, Poitras is un­rav­el­ling the mys­tery, which goes back to a bloody day in Bagh­dad in 2004.

Poitras, 53, knows U.S. gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials aren’t ex­actly fans of her po­lit­i­cally sen­si­tive work. Her 2014 doc­u­men­tary Ci­ti­zen­four, about Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency leaker Ed­ward Snow­den, won an Os­car. Ci­ti­zen­four de­picted Poitras and jour­nal­ist Glenn Green­wald’s ren­dezvous with Snow­den in Hong Kong where he handed over clas­si­fied ma­te­rial doc­u­ment­ing NSA’s sur­veil­lance pro­gram. Her new film, Risk, is about Wik­iLeaks founder Ju­lian As­sange.

Still, she never knew why the se­cu­rity de­lays started in 2006. She un­suc­cess­fully sought an­swers from Home­land Se­cu­rity. She fi­nally took the gov­ern­ment to court, fil­ing a Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act law­suit in 2015 with help from a civil lib­er­ties ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Last year, as a re­sult of the suit, the gov­ern­ment re­leased more than 1,000 pages of doc­u­ments to Poitras. The doc­u­ments show the U.S. gov­ern­ment in­ves­ti­gated Poitras on sus­pi­cion she might have been in­volved in an am­bush that led to a U.S. soldier’s death in Iraq in 2004.

That Novem­ber, Poitras was in Bagh­dad film­ing My Coun­try, My

Coun­try. The film de­picts Iraqi elec­tions from the per­spec­tive of an Iraqi doc­tor.

Mem­bers of a U.S. army na­tional guard unit re­ported see­ing a “white fe­male” with a cam­era on a rooftop just be­fore they were at­tacked. David Rous­tum, 22, was killed. Some guards­men sus­pected Poitras knew about the at­tack and didn’t tell Amer­i­can forces be­cause she wanted to film it. If true, Poitras would have bro­ken U.S. crim­i­nal law.

Poitras called the al­le­ga­tion false.

“There is no am­bush footage,” Poitras said.

Af­ter the at­tack, a lieu­tenant colonel, whose name was redacted from doc­u­ments, re­ported the woman with a cam­era to his su­pe­ri­ors. No ac­tion was taken.

But, af­ter re­turn­ing home, the lieu­tenant colonel was con­tacted by au­thor John Brun­ing, who was in­ter­view­ing guards­men for a book about their ex­pe­ri­ences in Iraq. Ac­cord­ing to the gov­ern­ment’s doc­u­ments, the au­thor learned about the woman film­ing on the rooftop.

In an e-mail ex­change in Jan­uary 2006, Poitras con­firmed to Brun­ing that she was film­ing in the area the day of the at­tack, but not on the street.

“I was stay­ing in the house of an Iraqi fam­ily I was fol­low­ing, so my record of the fight­ing is from the per­spec­tive of the fam­ily,” Poitras wrote to Brun­ing. “I did not ven­ture out onto the street that day. So I re­ally don’t have a doc­u­ment of what took place on the streets.”

Brun­ing told the lieu­tenant colonel Poitras was on the rooftop. The lieu­tenant colonel then in­formed the U.S. mil­i­tary that Poitras could have been in­volved.

In Fe­bru­ary 2006, mil­i­tary po­lice in­ter­viewed the lieu­tenant colonel and the au­thor. Brun­ing told investigators he be­lieved Poitras had prior knowl­edge of the at­tack. He said Poitras was stay­ing in a pro-Sad­dam Hus­sein neigh­bour­hood “and she was not in fear of her life at a time when Western jour­nal­ists were be­ing ab­ducted and ex­e­cuted.”

Nev­er­the­less, army investigators wrote shortly af­ter to the FBI, say­ing the army lacked suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence to charge Poitras. In May 2006, they sent a sum­mary of their in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Poitras to FBI head­quar­ters.

The air­port de­ten­tions be­gan shortly there­after.

Home­land Se­cu­rity spokesman David La­pan said other agen­cies con­trol who is flagged as a high­risk trav­eller. When peo­ple are flagged, au­thor­i­ties must “put them through en­hanced screen­ing pro­ce­dures. This is the rea­son for Ms. Poitras’ re­peated re­fer­rals to sec­ondary screen­ing.”

The de­ten­tions stopped six years later af­ter a 2012 news ar­ti­cle high­lighted her travel prob­lems. La­pan said Poitras was no longer deemed of “sig­nif­i­cant in­ter­est.”

Poitras is seek­ing more in­for­ma­tion from the gov­ern­ment.

Doc­u­men­tary film­maker Laura Poitras.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.