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US denies entry to British-Israeli war crimes investigator based on 'terrorist detecting algorithm'

Eyal Weizman (R) at the Forensic Architecture offices in London [Getty]

Date of publication: 21 February, 2020

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Eyal Weizman said he is "alarmed" that the US asked him to give information on contacts in order to be allowed entry to the country, after his visa was revoked.
The head of the human rights-focused investigative group Forensic Architecture has been denied entry to the US because he is deemed a security threat by an algorithm, according to a statement released on Thursday.

Eyal Weizman, whose group's work on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was nominated for the Turner prize in 2018, said he received an email two days before he was set to fly to the US, that he was barred from the ESTA visa waiver programme.

Israeli-born Weizman, who is also an architecture professor at Goldsmiths University in London, had planned to attend an art exhibition opening in Miami on Wednesday.

However, when he went to the US embassy in London on February 14 to apply for an alternative visa he was told that an algorithm had flagged him as a security risk. He said he was given no reason for the ban and no opportunity to appeal or obtain an alternative visa that would allow him to get to the event in time.

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He added that his wife and two children, who travelled a day before Weizman was scheduled to fly, were stopped and interrogated at New York's JFK airport for two and a half hours before being allowed entry. Weizman's wife, Ines Weizman, is also an architecture professor and scheduled to give talks in the US.

At the embassy, an official asked him to give details on all travel he had taken over the past 15 years, including who had funded it, and whether he had been to Syria, Iran, Iraq, Yemen or Somalia or met any nationals from those countries, he said.

He said that he declined to provide names of people in his network who could have triggered the algorithm, which the officer said would allow his case to be assessed more promptly.

"This much we know: we are being electronically monitored for a set of connections - the network of associations, people, places, calls, and transactions - that make up our lives," Weizman said.

"Working in human rights means being in contact with vulnerable communities, activists and experts, and being entrusted with sensitive information," he said in a statement.

"These networks are the lifeline of any investigative work. I am alarmed that relations among our colleagues, stakeholders, and staff are being targeted by the US government as security threats," he added.

Forensic Architecture's projects uses advanced modelling and mapping technology to investigate potential human rights abuses and war crimes in many conflict areas including the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Syria, but has also carried out work on police shootings in the US, UK and Israel and CIA strikes in Pakistan.

Weizman added that he was due to announce at the exhibition the launch of a joint investigation with local groups into rights violations in a nearby Florida detention center where migrant children have been held in inhumane conditions, according to activists.

Amnesty International has "vigorously condemned" Weizman's visa revocation and called for its reversal.

"Stopping Eyal Weizman from entering the United States does a grave disservice to human rights documentation efforts," said Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty International USA.

"It would be ludicrous to suggest that Eyal Weizman poses a security threat, and it's an embarrassment for the US to bar him."

Weizman, who holds both Israeli and British passports, was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2020 for services to architecture.

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Nick Waters, a senior investigator at Bellingcat, said tweeted: "Eyal is a man who has consistently used his remarkable intellect to investigate abuses of power. Some of those abuses have included the US. The revocation of his visa is a travesty and should be reversed immediately."

A spokesman for US Customs and Border Protection said:  "[Our officers] have the statutory authority to refer any individuals for additional screening about whom we need more information to make a determination of risk. These referrals are based on multiple factors that could include a combination of an individual's activities, associations, and travel patterns."

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