NEW YORK – Entertainer Harry Belafonte, one of the Bush administration's harshest critics, compared the Homeland Security Department to the Nazi Gestapo on Saturday and attacked the president as a liar.
"We've come to this dark time in which the new Gestapo of Homeland Security lurks here, where citizens are having their rights suspended," Belafonte said in a speech to the annual meeting of the Arts Presenters Members Conference.
"You can be arrested and not charged. You can be arrested and have no right to counsel," said Belafonte.
Belafonte's remarks on Saturday — part of a 45-minute speech on the role of the arts in a politically changing world — were greeted with a roaring standing ovation from an audience which included singer Peter Yarrow of the folk group Peter, Paul and Mary, and members of the arts community from several dozen countries.
Messages seeking comments from Homeland Security and White House officials were not immediately returned.
The Harlem-born Belafonte, who was raised in Jamaica, said his activism was inspired by an impoverished mother "who imbued in me that we should never capitulate to oppression."
He acknowledged that the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks demanded a reaction by the United States, but said the policies of the Bush administration were not the right response.
"Fascism is fascism. Terrorism is terrorism. Oppression is oppression," said Belafonte, who served in the U.S. Navy during World War II.
Bush, he said, rose to power "somewhat dubiously and ... then lies to the people of this nation, misleads them, misinstructs, and then sends off hundreds of thousands of our own boys and girls to a foreign land that has not aggressed against us."