EDITORIAL: Unacceptable treatment

World leaders and diplomats departed New York following the 61st UN General Assembly without incident, except for one. Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro was detained at JFK Airport for 90 minutes by U.S. officials who seized his travel documents. Port Authority agents tried to frisk him, ordered him strip-searched and threatened to handcuff him. Maduro refused to submit to this indignity and his travel documents were returned. When State Department officials arrived, they too ordered him frisked and again he refused. Finally he was released.

At a later press conference in New York, Maduro asked reporters, “Is this how U.S. authorities treat a foreign minister? What won’t they do to Arab people for wearing a turban? It’s a Nazi government, a racist government.”

The State Department later apologized. But when the airport security officials first saw Maduro’s diplomatic passport, surely they consulted the State Department. The bullying of the Venezuelan foreign minister undoubtedly came straight from the top.

Leave it to the Bush administration to further inflame relations between the U.S. and Venezuela. Venezuela’s growing international standing and opposition to U.S. imperial policies are a burr under the Bush saddle. This mistreatment by U.S. officials comes as the White House is trying to block Venezuela’s bid for a seat on the UN Security Council. But Venezuela was not the only country in the world to criticize the Bush administration at the General Assembly. Nor is it the only country with whom Bush has strained relations.

“Vulgar provocation,” is how Cuban President Fidel Castro described the incident. Cuba heads the 118-nation Non-Aligned Movement which is playing a growing role at the UN.

The United Nations headquarters is on U.S. soil. But the members of the United Nations are not U.S. property and world leaders who differ with the occupant of the White House are not “suspects” to be “profiled” or otherwise abused.

The Bush administration, with its pre-emptive unilateral militarism, torture of prisoners and scorning of the UN and international law, has done untold harm to our country’s image in the world. Insulting mistreatment of world diplomats pours oil on the fire. It’s unacceptable.