Snowden documentary director is suing the US government

Laura poitrasVimeoLaura Poitras

American filmmaker Laura Poitras, who won an Oscar this year for her documentary ‘
Citizenfour’ on NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, is suing the US government over what she calls “kafkaesque harassment” at US and foreign borders.

Poitras, 51, released a statement yesterday through the Electronic Frontier Foundation, whose lawyers are representing her in her lawsuit, saying that she is suing the Department of Justice (DOJ) and U.S. transportation security agencies demanding they release records detailing a six-year period from 2006 to 2012 in which she claims she was searched, questioned, and subjected to long security screenings at domestic and foreign airports on more than 50 occasions.

“I’m filing this lawsuit because the government uses the U.S. border to bypass the rule of law,” said Poitras in a her statement. “This simply should not be tolerated in a democracy. I am also filing this suit in support of the countless other less high-profile people who have also been subjected to years of Kafkaesque harassment at the borders. We have a right to know how this system works and why we are targeted.”

Poitras alleges that when she was detained, security agents told her she had a criminal record, that her name appeared on a national security threat database, and that she was on the governments No Fly List. In addition, she claims agents seized her phone, laptop, camera, and notebooks and copied their contents and that the searches were conducted without a warrant or an explanation.

PoitrasREUTERS/Lucy NicholsonWinners of Best Documentary Feature (L-R) Dirk Wilutsky, Laura Poitras, and Mathilde Bonnefoy stand with their awards for their work in ‘Citizenfour’ during the 87th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California February 22, 2015.

A 2006 book by John R. Bruning titled “The Devil’s Sandbox: With the 2nd Battalion, 162nd Infantry at War in Iraq,” may provide an explanation. According to the Weekly Standard, the book alleges that Poitras knew ahead of time of a November 20, 2004 ambush on US soldiers but did nothing to warn them.

Brandon Ditto, the soldier who led the platoon that was ambushed that day, was interviewed for Bruning’s book and told the Weekly Standard in 2013 that Poitras had “pre-knowledge” of the attack. He says the day of the attack, two soldiers in his platoon noticed two people suspected of being Poitras and Doctor Aladhadh, an insurgency leader in that particular area of Baghdad, standing on a roof with a camera.

“Usually when you see someone planted on a rooftop with a camera, they’re waiting for something, and right after that is when we got ambushed just down the road,” Ditto told the Weekly Standard. “So it seems that she had pre-knowledge that our convoy, or our patrol, was going to get hit.”

Ditto added that the attack resulted in “multiple casualties.”

In 2004, Poitras was in Iraq filming her Oscar-nominated war documentary called “My Country, My Country,” and, according to Devils Sandbox, was living with Doctor Aladhadh. The documentary was released in 2006, the same year Poitras claims the harassment started. 

Poitras denied she had been on the rooftop to army officers immediately following the attack, but Bruning says in his book that she later admitted to him via email that she had been on the roof that day.

Bruning said he provided a copy of the email to a US soldier and that it eventually got the attention of the Joint Terrorism Task Force, but Poitras was never charged.

Nowhere in Poitras’ 15-page legal complaint does she mention the 2004 incident.

Poitras claims to have filed a FOIA request last year seeking case files, surveillance records and documents naming or related to her, but was largely ignored.

Poitras added that the harassment stopped after a 2012 article by journalist Glenn Greenwald about Poitras’ experiences and a petition by a group of documentary filmmakers to the Department of Homeland Security protesting Poitras treatment, the statement said. 

“We are suing the government to force it to disclose any records that would show why security officials targeted Poitras for six years, even though she had no criminal record and there was no indication that she posed any security risk,” said Jamie Lee Williams, an EFF attorney. “By spurning Poitras’ FOIA requests, the government leaves the impression that her detentions were a form of retaliation and harassment of a journalist whose work has focused on U.S. policy in the post-9/11 world.”

Read the full complaint here:


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