Case Over No-Fly List Takes Bizarre Turn As Gov't Puts Witness On List, Then Denies Having Done So
from the shameless dept
As you my have heard, there’s a trial going on here in San Francisco about the legality of the complete lack of any sort of due process concerning the US’s “no fly” list. The NY Times has a good background article on the case, which notes that somewhere around 700,000 people appear to be on the list, where there’s basically no oversight of the list and no recourse if you happen to be placed on the list. This lawsuit, by Rahinah Ibrahim (who had been a Stanford PhD student) is challenging that.
In that case, a Stanford University Ph.D. student named Rahinah Ibrahim was prevented from boarding a flight at San Francisco International Airport in 2005, and was handcuffed and detained by the police. Ultimately, she was allowed to fly to Malaysia, her home country, but she has been unable to return to the United States because the State Department revoked her student visa.
According to court filings, two agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation visited Ms. Ibrahim a week before her trip and asked about her religious activities (she is Muslim), her husband and what she might know of a Southeast Asian terrorist organization. A summary of that interview obtained by Ms. Ibrahim’s lawyer includes a code indicating that the visit was related to an international terrorism investigation, but it is not clear what other evidence — like email or phone records — was part of that inquiry.
The Identity Project blog is covering the trial, which kicked off earlier this week with a ridiculous situation, highlighted by BoingBoing. Apparently, one of the people set to testify in the case, Ibrahim’s oldest daughter, Raihan Mustafa Kamal (an American citizen, born in the US), was blocked from boarding her flight to the US to appear at the trial, and told that she was on the no fly list as well. Kamal, a lawyer, was an eye witness to her mother being blocked from boarding her flight. The US knew that Kamal was set to testify and from all indications, in a move that appears extremely petty, appears to have purposely blocked her from flying to the US. Kamal was directly told by the airline that DHS had ordered them not to let Kamal to board. The airline even gave her a phone number for a Customs and Border Patrol office in Miami, telling her to call that concerning her not being able to board.
Judge William Alsup, who is known for his rather no-nonsense approach in court (and his willingness to dig very deep into understanding the issues), quickly noted that this apparent blocking of Kamal was ridiculous, and demanded that the government explain what happened. When they insisted they knew nothing about it, Alsup wasn’t satisfied. Nor was he satisfied with the story they eventually came back with. As Edward Hasbrouck at the Identity Project reports:
Judge Alsup ordered the government defendants’ lawyers to investigate and report back. “You’ve got ten lawyers over there on your side of the courtroom. You can send one of them out in the hall to make a phone call and find out what’s going on.”
At the end of the first day’s session of the trial (more on that below), the governments’ lawyers told Judge Alsup that they had made inquiries and had been told that “the plaintiff’s daughter just missed her flight” and was rebooked on a flight tomorrow (Tuesday) afternoon.
Needless to say, that story strains credulity. If Ms. Mustafa Kamal had merely missed her flight, why would she have been given a CBP phone number in Miami to call for information about what had happened? The governments’ lawyers insisted that, “That’s what we have been told”, but Judge Alsup wasn’t satisfied.
“We may have to have a separate evidentiary hearing about this,” Judge Alsup said, and ordered the defendants to provide further information tomorrow… “I want to know whether the government did something to obstruct a witness, a U.S. citizen.”
That was Monday. Tuesday morning, Ibrahim’s lawyer proved that the DOJ was flat out lying the day before by presenting the “no-board” instructions that DHS had sent to Malaysia Airlines to the court:
“None of that was true,” Ms. Pipkin told the court this morning. “She didn’t miss the flight. She was there in time to check in. She has not been rebooked on another flight.” And most importantly, it was because of actions by the DHS — one of the defendants in Dr. Ibrahim’s lawsuit — that Ms. Mustafa Kamal was not allowed to board her flight to SFO to attend and testify at her mother’s trial.
Ms. Pipkin said that Ms. Mustafa Kamal had sent her a copy of the “no-board” instructions which the DHS gave to Malaysia Airlines, and which the airline gave to Ms. Mustafa Kamal to explain as much as it knew about why it was not being allowed to transport her. Ms. Pipkin handed Judge William Alsup a copy of the DHS “no-board” instructions to Malaysia Airlines regarding Ms. Mustafa Kamal.
As Hasbrouck notes, the airline deserves kudos for handing over that info. Many airlines would simply keep it a secret. Judge Alsup, however, will not consider the document yet, noting that there isn’t evidence to its authenticity and it’s not part of a sworn record. Thus, he said that when Kamal arrives in SF to testify, that can be a part of her testimony. While the lawyer pointed out that Kamal was hesitant to buy another ticket if she wouldn’t be able to board again, Judge Alsup made it clear that she needs to come, and also appears to have made it quite clear to the DHS that if she is blocked again, there will be consequences:
“Get her on an airplane and get her here,” Judge Alsup responded. “She’s a U.S. citizen. She doesn’t need a visa. I’m not going to believe that she can’t get on a plane until she tries again. ” And Mr Freeborne, with disingenuous faux-solicitude, claimed that the government is “willing to do whatever we can to facilitate” Ms. Mustafa Kamal’s ability to board a flight to the U.S.
Judge Alsup wasn’t willing to take any action today on unproven allegations or unverified documents. But he made clear that, “I am disturbed by this…. We’ll hear from her [Ms. Mustafa Kamal] when she gets here. If it turns out that the DHS has sabotaged a witness, that will go against the government’s case. I want a witness from Homeland Security who can testify to what has happened. You find a witness and get them here.”
The report from Monday also describes other ridiculous claims by the DOJ, including trying to argue that information that was publicly available could not be included in the case because it was “sensitive security information” (SSI). Once again, Judge Alsup saw through the DOJ’s bullshit and called them out on it:
That’s ridiculous. Are you saying that if the president makes a speech, TSA can retroactively make it a secret what he said? It cannot be the law that something that is publicly known later becomes hidden…
Here’s my ruling: If it’s in a document that’s SSI, but it’s also available from some other publicly available source, it’s public information, and cannot be withheld from the public in this courtroom…. The government is taking such an unreasonable position on how to run a trial. If it’s been in the public domain for years, you’re barred from making the argument that the plaintiff’s counsel cannot “disclose” it….
Trials are important. Trials are supposed to be public.
I want to categorically reject one thing: If information is publicly available in some other way, the government does not have the right to retroactively clamp it down and remove it from the public record. Even if it could have been protected as SSI within the government, if the plaintiff obtains this information independently, the government can’t clamp that down.
The plaintiff has the right to prove her case. If she can prove it through publicly available admissible evidence, she can do so even if that information is also included in internal government documents designated as SSI.
That’s the way I feel. That’s the law, that ought to be the law, and that’s the only way to run this country. That’s my ruling, and if the government disagrees, I invite you to take an emergency writ to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
It would be an understatement to suggest that Judge Alsup is not impressed with the US government’s actions so far. The notes from day two in the trial provide a lot more background on what happened. It would appear that the lawyers for Ibrahim are making a (rather compelling, from the evidence) case that bumbling US law enforcement officials confused two very different Malaysian organizations with similar names: Jemaah Islamiyah Malaysia, which is a terrorist organization, and Jamaah Islah Malaysia, “a non-profit professional networking group for Muslims who have returned to Malaysia after post-secondary schooling in the U.S. and Europe.” The two organizations are, as you would imagine, quite different. Ibrahim is involved in the latter, and has no connection to the former, but it sounds like the FBI agents who interviewed her were unaware of the difference.
The further details of Ibrahim’s life, her arrest and treatment, all suggest a situation where US law enforcement totally screwed up, and seriously mucked up someone’s life — and now they seem to be doing everything possible to avoid taking responsibility for it.