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Fun at US Customs
Apparently, US Customs doesn't even need a warrant to detain you for days
without the opportunity to talk to an attorney, x-ray you, pump your
stomach, give you laxatives, chain you to a hospital bed, or insert their
arms up to the elbow in one of your body openings.
Are laws of other Western nations similar? While I can understand
strip-searching travelers on occasion, the rest of this stuff seems a tad
much, especially in the absense of anything resembling due process.
Declan didn't write this, so I will post the whole thing. :)
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Returning to Chicago from Jamaica, Gwendolyn
Richards was plucked from a line of air travelers by a Customs Service
inspector and ordered into a bare, windowless room. Over the next five
hours, she was strip-searched, handcuffed, X-rayed, and probed
internally by a doctor.
The armed Customs officers who led Richards in handcuffs through
O'Hare International Airport and drove her to a hospital for
examination suspected she might be smuggling drugs. They found
``I was humiliated -- I couldn't believe it was happening,'' said
Richards, who is black and has joined a civil rights lawsuit against
Customs. ``They had no reason to think I had drugs.''
Richards, 27, isn't alone.
Officers last year ordered partial or full strip searches or X-rays
for 2,447 airline passengers, and found drugs on 27 percent of them,
according to figures compiled by the Customs Service.
Customs officials say tough tactics are necessary to catch the growing
number of smugglers who swallow cocaine-filled balloons, insert
packages of heroin into their body cavities, even hide drugs in a
hollow leg or under cover of a fake pregnancy.
``We still have a major drug problem in this country,'' Customs
Commissioner Raymond Kelly said in an interview Wednesday. ``We have
to do this.''
Richards and others who have sued Customs have alleged they were
targeted because of their race. Sixty percent of those pulled aside
last year for body searches or X-rays were black or Hispanic, Customs
figures show. Thirty-three percent of Hispanics who were searched were
found to have drugs compared with 31 percent of blacks and 26 percent
Kelly said race isn't a factor. ``There are higher risk countries and
higher risk flights,'' he said. ``Those flights may be more populated
by a particular ethnic group.''
Last year, the Customs Service seized 858 pounds of cocaine and 803
pounds of heroin attached to or inside international air travelers'
bodies, officials said. More than 70 percent of the heroin seized at
airports was smuggled that way.
Acknowledging that searches ``can get pretty traumatic,'' Kelly said
Customs is reviewing its policies and experimenting with new
technology that might reduce the number of body searches. The review
comes after several lawsuits and complaints from travelers who say
they suffered abusive treatment and hours of confinement. For
--A Florida mother says her baby was born prematurely because Customs
officials forced her to take a prescription laxative when she was
seven months pregnant. In a lawsuit filed last month, Janneral Denson,
25, said she was taken from the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood
International Airport and shackled to a hospital bed for two days so
inspectors could watch her bowel movements. She says her son, born 12
days later, suffered damage.
--Two Jamaican-born U.S. citizens each filed a $500,000 claim in
September over body cavity searches and X-rays in Tampa, Fla. One of
the women learned afterwards she was pregnant and agonized that her
fetus might have been harmed, according to their attorney, Warren Hope
Dawson. The baby was born healthy. Customs policy requires a pregnancy
test before a woman is X-rayed, but Dawson said the pregnant woman was
--A 51-year-old widow returning from an around-the-world trip was held
for 22 hours at a San Francisco hospital, x-rayed and given the same
powerful laxative. Amanda Buritica of Port Chester, N.Y., won a
$451,001 lawsuit last February. A Boston nurse, Bosede Adedeji, won
$215,000 in a similar lawsuit in 1991.
Customs officials note that fewer than 2 percent of the 68 million
fliers who pass through Customs each year have their luggage opened.
Far fewer -- about 49,000 people -- are personally searched, usually
with a pat down.
The 1,772 strip searches last year ranged from people told to remove
their socks to passengers like Richards who were ordered to take off
their underwear and bend over. Strip searches are performed by
officers of the same gender.
The Customs review found 19 passengers who were subjected to pelvic or
rectal exams by doctors while inspectors watched. Drugs were found in
12 of those cases.
Congress and courts have given Customs broad authority to search for
drugs, weapons and other illegal imports.
The Supreme Court ruled that Customs officers at airports and border
crossings don't need the probable cause or warrants that police need
to search possessions. Customs officers can perform a strip search
based on ``reasonable suspicion'' that someone might be hiding
A Customs handbook obtained by The Associated Press advises officers
that reasonable suspicion usually requires a combination of factors,
including someone who: appears nervous, wears baggy clothing, gives
vague or contradictory answers about travel plans, acts unusually
polite or argumentative, wears sunglasses or acts sick. Race isn't
Customs officers can detain people for hours, even days, without
allowing them a telephone call to a lawyer or relative or charging
them with a crime. Inspectors say they keep detainees from making
calls so that drug associates aren't tipped off. Generally, if someone
is detained for eight hours or more, a federal prosecutor is notified.
Richards is among more than 80 black females who filed a class-action
lawsuit claiming they were singled out for strip searches at O'Hare
because of race and gender.
The plaintiffs include a 15-year-old girl, a mentally retarded woman,
and a woman who uses a wheelchair. Many decided to sue after seeing
news reports on Chicago's WMAQ-TV about strip searches of black women.
The agency has hired an outside contractor to review how inspectors
deal with the public, and is exploring ways to make the system less
hostile. In a test at Miami and New York airports, some passengers
selected for strip searches are given the option of having an X-ray
instead. The service is also studying new imaging technology that
shows things hidden under people's clothes.
Customs officers seek passengers' written consent for an X-ray, but it
isn't required. Some travelers say they felt coerced.
Las Vegas police officer Rich Cashton said a Customs inspector who
stopped him at Los Angeles International Airport last year grew angry
when Cashton asked what would happen if he refused an X-ray.
``He said, 'If you don't sign this form, I'm going to take you down to
the hospital and pump your stomach,'' Cashton recalled. ``He was using
that threat as intimidation to make me sign a consent form, which is
Cashton, who identified himself as a police officer, was let go.
Eric Michael Cordian 0+
O:.T:.O:. Mathematical Munitions Division
"Do What Thou Wilt Shall Be The Whole Of The Law"