Peace Activist Settles Lawsuit Against United States Customs Service

Affiliate: ACLU of Michigan
July 6, 2000 12:00 am

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DETROIT, MI — In a settlement negotiated by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights, the U.S. Customs Office has agreed to return illegally seized film and videocassettes of conditions in Iraq to peace activist Daniel Handelman. Mr. Handelman will also receive $15,000 in damages and attorney fees.

“The United States’ attempt to suppress evidence of human suffering in Iraq was a blatant violation of the First Amendment,” said Kurt Berggren, a cooperating attorney with the ACLU of Michigan who represented Handelman. “In a true democracy, the government cannot censor information simply because it reflects poorly on its own policy.”

Handelman traveled to Iraq in December 1997, with a peace delegation to determine the impact that economic sanctions have had on the people of Iraq. Using a camera and camcorder, he documented the conditions there.

Upon his return to the United States, Handelman planned to use the photographs and videotape to educate Americans. However, when he returned customs officials at Detroit Metro Airport seized the film and videocassettes, claiming that they were illegally imported “goods or services” of Iraq.

Handelman struggled for two years through administrative appeals to retrieve the materials. When those efforts were unsuccessful, he filed a lawsuit asserting that the Customs Service violated his First Amendment rights by preventing him from disseminating images of Iraq. He also alleged that the film and videocassettes, which he had purchased in the United States, were not “goods or services” of Iraq.

“I hope this case will help draw attention to the United State’s attempt to cover up the horrid consequences of the embargo on the people of Iraq,” Handelman said.

Handelman was represented by Berggren, Michael J. Steinberg, Legal Director of the ACLU of Michigan, and Nancy Chang, an attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR). CCR is a progressive, non-profit legal organization based in New York that opposes sanctions against Iraq and Cuba.

For more information about the lawsuit, see

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