Bobby Fischer detained in Japan (updated)

by ChessBase
7/16/2004 – It's the latest twist in the sad tale of American former world champion Bobby Fischer. He has been detained in Japan and faces possible deportation to the US to face charges for playing in Yugoslavia in 1992. Fischer's website says he was "very nearly killed" in Japan. The story has been picked up by news services all over the world.

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The final chapter for Fischer?

First reports came in saying that Bobby Fischer "has been viciously attacked brutalized seriously injured and very nearly killed when he was illegally detained and arrested by the Japanese immigration authorities at Narita international airport in Tokyo Japan." The site also says Fischer "urgently requests at immediate offer of political asylum from a friendly third country".

A few hours later The Washington Post provided more information. (Free registration required.) Some excerpts:

The hunt for Bobby Fischer, the unpredictable chess legend, ended this week when he was detained in Japan, where he awaits possible deportation on charges that he attended a 1992 match in Yugoslavia in violation of a U.S. ban.

The Japanese Immigration Bureau detained the 61-year-old Fischer on Tuesday at Narita International Airport in Tokyo at the urging of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which had recently stepped up efforts to track the fugitive, U.S. authorities said yesterday.

"He's in custody in Japan, and we are awaiting a determination whether he'll be deported back to the United States to face charges," said Allan Doody, special agent in charge of the immigration agency's Washington field office.

U.S. authorities, acting on the outstanding warrant, recently canceled Fischer's U.S. passport after discovering that he had a 90-day visa to visit Japan. Authorities there detained him at the airport for failing to possess valid travel documents, U.S. authorities said.

The warrant for Fischer was issued by a grand jury in 1992 when he violated US sanctions against Yugoslavia by playing a match there against Boris Spassky. For over a decade it looked like the American government was content to ignore Fischer as long as he stayed out of the US, but clearly things have changed.

Will Fischer actually be deported and prosecuted in the United States? Judging from his increasingly wild statements over the past few years the chess legend is in need of help he is unlikely to seek on his own. His few contacts have been with sycophants eager to exploit his fame. No matter how this sad story turns out we wish him good health.

Now the newswires have the story and are running versions of the breaking news:

Recent stories on Bobby Fischer:

The Fischer Indictment

In an article on Chess News GM Larry Evans and Larry Parr have discussed the indictment of Bobby Fischer, raising the issue of whether it was a criminal act for an American citizen to play chess for money in Yugoslavia. "Did Bobby commit a criminal act when he pushed his king's pawn two squares against Boris Spassky (who is not being prosecuted by France)?" ask the authors. "Did Bobby become a gangster when he played 7.b4 in game 11? Arguably, he acted illegally when he violated an executive order signed by President Bush. An executive order? Not a law passed by Congress? That's right. The American Leviathan state now has provisions for locking up people who won't obey the stroke of a president's pen and, perhaps even worse, who injure the egos of Washington bigwigs by spitting on their orders."

In 1964 GM Evans enraged the right wing by defying a State Department ban on Cuba and competing in the Capablanca Memorial. In 1981 Evans enraged the left wing by lecturing on chess in South Africa. There are always people who would allow the government to stifle our basic right to travel anywhere in peacetime.

In the 1950s conservative senator John Bricker (R. Ohio) introduced an amendment to make the US Constitution the supreme law of the land in all instances. The amendment failed by one vote, defeated by a coalition of "moderate" Republicans and liberal Democrats.

So isn't the Constitution now the supreme law of the land? "No," reply Evans and Parr, "the Supreme Court ruled that U.S. obligations under international treaties take precedence over rights guaranteed to citizens in the Bill of Rights. Bobby Fischer won 10 games, lost 5, drew 15, and got paid a little over $100,000 for each of those games. Now we are suddenly told that he is a criminal even though his actions produced no direct victim. He killed no one and injured no identifiable individual; he just played chess. Except in the most compelling circumstances, the authors do not believe in punishing people for victimless crimes."

The conclusion of the two chess columnists: "Where and how to play chess should be left to the individual conscience. Our conscience would not permit us to play chess in the Yugoslavia of ethnic cleansers; Bobby's conscience, assuming that he has one, permits him to take money from evil men who do evil things. Bobby may not be a man whose hand you would shake. But he is not a criminal."

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