by Eileen | 2:04 am, January 13, 2013 | Comments Off
Rahinah Ibrahim, a Malaysian national, has been fighting her inclusion on a secret no-fly list since 2005. She was arrested and held after trying to fly home from San Francisco, allowed to board a flight the following day but prevented from returning to the U.S. two months later. By way of explanation, she was finally told her visa had been revoked on grounds of terrorist affiliations and she was on a secret n0-fly list.
If, indeed, Miss Ibrahim, by day an architecture professor and advocate of improving construction standards in Malaysia, is secretly colluding to attack America, there’s not a shred of publicly available evidence – making her either a world class planner or innocent. Still, an architect who actually prefers blowing up buildings would be ironic.
The case has been going back and forth ever since, with Miss Ibrahim contesting her inclusion on the list and the government saying, in essence, they should not have to produce evidence in order to secure the case’s dismissal. Take away the immediate heightened emotions triggered by yet more national security babble. At its heart, this is a matter of whether or not peoples’ rights and freedoms should be held hostage to the state’s word. If we agree to undermine Rule of Law for the sake of nebulous counterterrorism efforts, what’s left to stand on?
We’re told this woman is so dangerous she cannot be allowed into the country, and that we can never be allowed to know why. Without knowing what evidence the state has, we can’t go much further down that road. But we can say that a liberal democracy should not be unwilling to tell her own citizens what is being done to protect them. Nor should the state be able to inflict punishments, deny appeal, and refuse to explain what the suspect even did.
I am not arguing for the full extension of all the rights citizens enjoy to foreign nationals and resident aliens. I am saying the game being played with Miss Ibrahim is a fundamental insult to the mere idea of republican government. And I am saying that if our Justice Department prevails in applying different standards, foreigners won’t be the only ones getting shafted. Rahinah Ibrahim applied for and was granted a visa, she played by the rules according to the publicly available evidence, and was stripped of that visa and denied an appeal without being told why. We’re supposed to be better than that.
People in my circle frequently quip that the U.S. government uses 1984 like an instruction manual. That’s the old evil. Now, I think it’s fair to say they’re onto The Trial.
At least one man, Judge William Alsup agreed. He’s denied the Justice Department’s bid to dismiss Rahinah Ibrahim’s case twice already, characterizing the state’s behavior as a “persistent and stubborn refusal” to follow its own laws. On each occasion, he was reversed by a federal appeals court. On the third round, Justice Department officials offered to allow Judge Alsup to see its evidence, though on the condition that Miss Ibrahim’s own legal team could never see or be told the contents of the evidence.
To his lasting credit, Judge Alsup rejected the offer, declined to look at the evidence, and set a trial date for this December. I have doubt that Barack Obama’s Justice Department will do whatever it can to avoid that trial. Of course, if they just give in an take Miss Ibrahim off the secret list, that would be an admission that is either not a threat after all or that the state is willing to let a terrorist into thee country rather than submit to the rule of law. Still, I predict maneuvers to seat a more pliable judge on the case or have the entire matter removed to secret courts. The Justice Department has already filed papers to dismiss Judge Alsup’s most recent ruling.
At stake is more than the massive issue of whether the state will notch another win in its bid to hold us to one set of rules and make up another set for itself. This could establish a precedent for individuals to challenge their inclusion on the rapidly expanding and proliferating ‘watch lists’. That we know of, there is a No-Fly List of 20,000 names and growing, a Selectee List of people who are allowed to fly but only with intense scrutiny at check-points, numbering at least 16,000 names, and a general Terrorist List, including anyone who is suspected of having any ties to or sympathies with terrorists, approaching half a million names. We are not, as it stands now, allowed to see those lists and or to know the criteria for adding and removing names.
Oh yeah, and there’s the list of 30,000 names of people often wrongly barred from flying, which is certainly not everyone’s idea of solving a problem caused by disorganized lists in the first place, though it does offer insight into the thought process of the security bureaucracy.
People may be told they are on a list and cannot fly, or may deduce their inclusion. The Byzantine process by which people may seek redress only leads to a form letter informing the petitioner that if he is on a list and if the information he has supplied merits removing his name, then corrections will be made. To put it plainly, that is not an open and fair redress process.
After nearly eight years going back and forth through the courts, there is still nothing in the Ibrahim v. Homeland Security files to indicate whether Miss. Ibrahim has any ties to terrorism at all or is the victim of a grotesque mistake. Being unable to produce evidence may not bother the United States government, but people like me find it to by one of the biggest problems of our burgeoning surveillance state that we often don’t have any idea what’s going on specifically – only that we are being lied to and monitored.
Such behavior feeds the idiotic output of conspiracists while simultaneously eroding democracy.
Suggesting that the government made a mistake and won’t admit it for fear of triggering a widespread inquiry into all those watch lists might explain a lot, but there’s just no way to know. Government officials have argued that they’re not hiding anything – merely worried over establishing a precedent that non-citizens are allowed to sue the U.S. from outside the state’s borders. They cannot, however, ask for the benefit of the doubt and refuse to back that up.
The legitimate pursuit of justice and security does not benefit from erecting a shadow court system where judges are told what opinions to have and defendants aren’t told anything.
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