‘It’s a total abuse of the law’

Glenn Greenwald, right, with his partner David Miranda
Glenn Greenwald, right, with his partner David Miranda
Associated Press

In what appears to be an outrageous abuse, journalist Glenn Greenwald’s partner was detained for nine hours at London’s Heathrow Airport yesterday, with officials relying on a British counterterrorism law as a justification for specious harassment.

Mr. Greenwald’s partner, David Michael Miranda, 28, is a citizen of Brazil. He had spent the previous week in Berlin visiting Laura Poitras, a documentary filmmaker who has also been helping to disseminate Mr. Snowden’s leaks, to assist Mr. Greenwald. The Guardian had paid for the trip, Mr. Greenwald said, and Mr. Miranda was on his way home to Rio de Janeiro.

Mr. Miranda, Mr. Greenwald said, was told that he was being detained under Section 7 of the British Terrorism Act, which allows the authorities to detain someone for up to nine hours for questioning and to conduct a search of personal items, often without a lawyer, to determine possible ties to terrorism.

As Michael Isikoff reported, Miranda was questioned about Greenwald’s work, was asked for the password to his laptop computer, and had his laptop, mobile phone, camera, memory sticks, and other electronics confiscated. The devices have apparently not been returned.

Greenwald said yesterday, “It’s a total abuse of the law. This is obviously a serious, radical escalation of what they are doing. He is my partner. He is not even a journalist.”

Look, I realize Glenn Greenwald and his work generate some pretty strong opinions, and he has his share of spirited detractors. I’m aware of the fact that many folks who consider themselves on the lefty/liberal/progressive side of most debates aren’t always fond of Greenwald’s efforts. I also understand that if you look back through Glenn’s archives, he’s occasionally had unkind things to say about my work.

But here’s the part to keep in mind: none of this matters. Not even a little. Whether you love Glenn or hate him, whether you celebrate his work or condemn it, yesterday’s incident at Heathrow is ridiculous.

Put it this way: if we remove the names from the story, would Greenwald’s critics endorse what’s transpired? A journalist doggedly covers an important story and publishes classified information (which is legal), prompting a worthwhile national debate. Soon after, prominent federal U.S. lawmakers speak openly about arresting the journalist, while British officials subject his partner to harassment without cause.

Why would anyone defend this?

I’ve seen some suggestions that Miranda was acting as a proxy for Greenwald, likely traveling to Germany to meet with Poitras on his partner’s behalf. Even if this were true, what difference would it make? How would that provide a justification for this misapplication of the British Terrorism Act?

British authorities haven’t elaborated on what led them to detain Miranda, though officials were probably looking for more information on what classified information Snowden had provided to Greenwald. Whether, and to what extent, the confiscated electronics will shed light on these questions is unclear.

Regardless, this fiasco is plainly outrageous.

Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden and NSA

'It's a total abuse of the law'