Woman On No-Fly List For 7 Years Becomes First To Successfully Challenge U.S. Gov’t

Rahinah Ibrahim – image source

By Joe Wright  

In a precedentsetting case, Rahinah Ibrahim has become the first person to successfully challenge the U.S. government’s secretive No-Fly List.

Ibrahim was a student at Stanford in 2005 when she was detained at San Francisco Airport while en route to Kona, Hawaii as part of a Ph.D. program in architecture and design. She was detained, interrogated, then released after two hours, but subsequently ended up on the No-Fly List . . . for 7 years.

As the video report below highlights, after a tenacious legal battle Ibrahim has finally been removed from the list and some of the details have been exposed.

It was an FBI agent’s clerical error made by checking the wrong box that resulted in the ensuing upheaval Ibrahim endured. Worse, it has been revealed that the U.S. government knew early on that it was a mistake and tried to conceal the embarrassing error. In fact, the entire case has been conducted in secret until now when Rahinah Ibrahim has finally had her name cleared of any accusations over possible links to terrorism.

There has been a large range cited in the numbers of people who appear on the No-Fly List, with estimates from a conservative 20,000 to possibly over half a million. According to the ACLU, there has been no meaningful way for people to know how they got on it, or what process will be successful to get off it:

An individual denied boarding on a plane due to apparent inclusion in the No Fly List must submit a standard form to the Department of Homeland Security Traveler Redress Inquiry Program (“DHS TRIP”). DHS TRIP transmits complaints to the TSC, which determines whether any action should be taken.

After TSC completes its review, DHS TRIP sends a letter that purports to explain how the complaint was resolved. But that letter does not confirm or deny whether the individual is included on the No Fly List, whether they remain on it, or whether they can fly in the future. The government also refuses to provide any reason for inclusion on the No Fly List or a hearing at which an individual can clear his or her name.

That means individuals on the list must simply hope that an unspecified government agency corrects an error or backtracks. If they are removed from the list, they will only discover this if they take the risk of purchasing airline tickets and trying to fly—without knowing whether they will succeed. This can be a frightening prospect because people on the No Fly List are often surrounded and questioned by numerous security officials when they are denied boarding on planes.

Ibrahim encountered difficulties with her travel visa and had subsequent issues with work, among other typical consequences, as outlined by the ACLU below which is defending others on the list:

Being unable to fly has had a devastating impact on our clients’ personal and professional lives. It has prevented Air Force veteran Steven Washburn, who lives in New Mexico, from traveling to be with his wife, a Spanish citizen who is located in Ireland and unable to secure a visa to travel to the United States. It prohibited Marine veteran Abe Mashal from traveling to Washington to serve a client of his dog training business, resulting in the loss of a lucrative contract, and from traveling to Hawaii to attend his sister-in-law’s graduation from missionary school. Inclusion in the No Fly List has also prevented Salah Ali Ahmed from traveling to Yemen to visit his siblings and other relatives. (Source – ACLU No Fly List Factsheet)

Perhaps this case will spark a much closer look at this arbitrary and error-prone system put in place with 9/11 as the excuse to keep the government’s actions in the shadows.

Full transcript with research links below:

By Lauren Zima

Unable to fly for years, because of a clerical error? Former Stanford University student Rahinah Ibrahim was on the government’s “no fly” list for seven years. After a long legal battle, she’s off it, and now we know why she was on in the first place.

Wired reports it was a simple error. That an FBI agent “checked the wrong boxes.” That’s according to a U.S. District Judge’s filing on the case. (Via Wired)

And as many outlets are reporting, the government seemed to make major efforts to keep this case quiet with closed court hearings. (Via Boing Boing)

According to Al Jazeera, Ibrahim was first detained in 2005. Her attorneys think authorities confused her involvement with a women’s organization for involvement with a terrorist group.

Ibrahim is in her 40s, and is an architecture professor living in Malaysia. She says the years of legal battles and the fact that she hasn’t had a Visa have hindered her professional development. But now, she’s become the first person to successfully challenge the government on being placed on the no-fly list.

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