Laura Poitras, an Oscar and Emmy-nominated filmmaker and journalist, has a plethora of films and documentaries under her belt, most of them involving war, politics, and life abroad in various Middle Eastern countries. While her films have been recognized and openly embraced by numerous film critics and acclaimed festivals in her home country of the United States, her efforts to continue fulfilling her creative passions have been incessantly interrupted by the American government.
Most of the time, when the accomplished filmmaker travels back home to America from an international country, Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Patrol agents meet her at either the airplane gate exit or tarmac door. Sometimes, they check the passports of every single passenger who departs the plane until they find her. They then take her into a private room, where she is subject to interrogation, searches, and the victimization of coercion tactics. Each time that she is interrogated, Poitras is asked meticulous questions about where she went, whom she met, and what she spoke to certain individuals about. Most of the time, she is detained for up to three to four hours, all while being told she could be released quicker if she abided to complete searches and answers the questions being asked entirely.
In these detainments, Poitras has had some of her basic belongings seized, ranging from her laptop and camera to her own personal cell phone, to even her notebooks and personal credit card receipts, which have all been copied on numerous occasions. Sometimes, her possessions aren’t returned for weeks on end.
Since 2006, the filmmaker has traveled in and out of the country at an estimated total of 40 times. Sometimes, before being interrogated on her own nation’s soil, Poitras has had to deal with being interrogated on foreign soil, only to be threatened with the possibility of not being able to return to her country. Once, she was told that she was barred from returning to the United States, to only be told last minute that she could board the flight.
In November of 2010, Poitras arrived at JFK Airport in New York City. When cross-examined about her trip by DHS agents, she stated her rights as a journalist in refusing to answer questions concerning her trip. One of the DHS agents interrogating her let her know that he found it extremely suspicious that she was unwilling to help her own country by answering the questions about her dealings abroad.
To avoid any further dilemmas with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Patrol, Poitras has been forced to make distressing decisions that impede her workload. She no longer travels with any gear pertaining to her craft, and resorts to using unconventional methods to deliver the most delicate facets of her work to other locations. In addition to that, the artist even refuses to talk about her work over the telephone, while rejecting the opportunity to edit her works at home in fear that that officials will try take hold of the footage.
Poitras has been hesitant to discuss the details of her detainments, until last week. Before traveling back to the United States from Great Britain and while being issued her boarding pass, the ticket agent who was helping Poitras called a Customs and Border Patrol Agent who questioned her about the details of her trip. Later, when she arrived at Newark International Airport here in the United States, DHS and CBP agents met her at the gate, led her to a private room, and interrogated her again.
Every time that Poitras has been detained upon her arrival back home, she made it a point to take notes of the entire experience, taking down details concerning the way she was treated, the questions that were asked, and who the agents were among other things. This time around, Poitras was ordered to stop taking notes simply because agents said her pen could be used a weapon. When she told the agents that she was a journalist and that her lawyer advised that she takes notes regarding her detainments, the CBP agent threatened to handcuff her if she did not stop taking notes immediately. Another agent threatened to accuse her of refusing to cooperate with an investigation if she continued to refuse to answer the questions being asked.
Poitras’s view on international travel, probably for both work and pleasure, has changed dramatically, as it would be for anyone undergoing the experiences she has. For past six years, she has endured countless amounts of interrogations and seizures of her possessions by her own country. She has never been accused or convicted of any wrongdoings or crimes and yet, the respected filmmaker and journalist has had to suffer through incessant cross-examinations.
Last year, The New York Times sat down with Laura Poitras in the video shown below, providing a look into her peronal thoughts regarding her continuous ordeals.
Source: The Salon