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South African fights denial of U.S. visa

Adam Habib, a scholar and Iraq war critic, was denied a visa to the US for 'links to terrorism.'

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A South African scholar and critic of the war in Iraq is now fighting in US courts to clear his name, after being denied a visa for having "links to terrorism."

The US government has not directly declared Adam Habib, a respected social scientist and deputy vice chancellor of the University of Johannesburg, a terrorist. But when Mr. Habib asked why he was denied entry at immigration at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport in October 2006, and denied a visa this past summer, the US Embassy in Pretoria handed him the statute under which his visa was denied.

The relevant statute, from the US Immigration and Nationality Act, allows the US to deny entry to a person who has either engaged in terrorist acts or who has signaled an intention to engage in a terrorist act.

"I think it's completely outrageous," says Dr. Habib, who has filed a court challenge in Boston with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). "I asked [the US Embassy] specifically what exactly have I done to have you guys conclude that I'm a terrorist. [They said]: 'The State Department doesn't enter into that specificity of detail.' My attitude toward the US is not defined by what the present administration does. But it does bug me if I'm suddenly accused of something I haven't done."

Habib is just one foreigner of many who have faced either strenuous interrogation or expulsion by US immigration officials since 9/11. But his legal challenge shines a media spotlight on a visa process that has become more opaque in recent years, raising questions about the rights of individuals to free speech and to due process.

"This is a problem that is much bigger than just Professor Habib," says Melissa Goodman, an attorney with the ACLU who is handling Habib's case. "Since 9/11, writers, artists, and other have found it much more difficult to get into the US. What they have in common is that, like Professor Habib, they are vocal critics of US foreign policy."

The government points to recent legislation allowing it to make decisions in the national interest if there is a terrorist threat.

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