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When US bars its door to foreign scholars

A lawsuit wants the Bush administration to explain why it denied entry to intellectuals who've criticized US policy.

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Concern is mounting that the US government is using antiterror laws - namely, the Patriot Act - to revive a now-discredited practice common during the cold war: the prevention of foreign intellectuals who are critical of administration policies from entering the country and sharing their views with Americans.

The practice, called ideological exclusion, became illegal in 1990. But a recent lawsuit - brought by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the PEN American Center under the Freedom of Information Act - is asking the Bush administration to explain its decisions to revoke or deny visas to several foreign scholars, and why they don't violate free-speech protections.

"This is about free speech, the purpose of colleges and universities," says Donna Euben, counsel for the AAUP in Washington. "We're not challenging the [USA Patriot Act] itself. We're just asking for information about its application to these particular scholars where there is no evidence that they have supported terrorism in any way."

In their suit, the groups cite the cases of several foreign scholars. One, Tariq Ramadan, is a prominent Swiss Muslim scholar who has condemned terrorism and routinely come to the United States on speaking tours in the past. In 2004, as he was preparing to take up a teaching post at the University of Notre Dame, his visa was revoked. The US government gave no formal reason, but press reports suggested the denial was based on "antiterrorism law." Another scholar, Dora Maria Tellez, is a former Nicaraguan government official who more than a decade ago was involved in the overthrow of the US-backed Somoza regime. She had been lined up to teach at Harvard University, but last January her visa was denied.

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