DISPATCHES FROM AMERICA How many watch lists on head of a pin?
By Peter Van Buren
Rahinah Ibrahim is a slight Malaysian woman who attended Stanford University on a US student visa, majoring in architecture. She was not a political person. Despite this, as part of a post-9/11 sweep directed against Muslims, she was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In 2004, while she was still in the US but unbeknownst to her, the FBI sent her name to the no-fly list.
Ibrahim was no threat to anyone, innocent of everything, and ended up on that list only due to a government mistake. Nonetheless, she was not allowed to reenter the US to finish her studies or even attend her trial and speak in her own defense. Her life was derailed by the tangle of national security bureaucracy
and pointless “anti-terror” measures that have come to define post-Constitutional America. Here's what happened, and why it may matter to you.
The No-Fly List
On September 10, 2001, there was no formal no-fly list. Among the many changes pressed on a scared population starting that September 12th were the creation of two such lists: the no-fly list and the selectee list for travelers who were to undergo additional scrutiny when they sought to fly. If you were on the no-fly list itself, as its name indicated, you could not board a flight within the US or one heading out of or into the country. As a flight-ban plan, it would come to extend far beyond America's borders, since the list was shared with 22 other countries.
No one knows how many names are on it. According to one source, 21,000 people, including some 500 Americans, are blacklisted; another puts the figure at 44,000. The actual number is classified.
On January 2, 2005, unaware of her status as a threat to the United States, Ibrahim left Stanford for San Francisco International Airport to board a flight to Malaysia for an academic conference. A ticket agent saw her name flagged in the database and called the police.
Despite being wheelchair-bound due to complications from a medical procedure, Ibrahim was handcuffed, taken to a detention cell, and denied access to medication she had in hand. Without explanation, after extensive interrogation, she was allowed to board her flight. When she tried to return to America to resume her studies, however, she found herself banned as a terrorist. More ..."
[Note to Readers: As with so many TomDispatch articles, you can fact-check this one by reviewing the same sources I drew from via links in the original piece. Since many of the facts of Ibrahim's case come from her suit against the Department of Homeland Security, however, I have limited the repetition of that link for ease of reading. You can find it by clicking here.]