Time to Ground the “No Fly” List

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The No Fly List is finally getting the scrutiny and skepticism it deserves. It is both a “diabolical bureaucratic beast”  (according to former Nixon Whitehouse Counsel John Dean) and a bit of a laughingstock. On the ‘funny’ side, the list has included people like the late Senator Ted Kennedy and has forced the diversion of a plane flying pop singer Cat Stevens, but then, it ineffectively lets people who are on the list on to planes without any additional security 2 out of 3 times.

More seriously, it has caused consternation, embarrassment, expense and inconvenience to many, sometimes stranding people oversees. It also seems that the FBI has used it as a way to pressure people into becoming informants. The No Fly List is reportedly about 20,000 names long. But until now, you were not allowed to know if you were on it.

On June 24, a federal judge in Oregon ruled that the FBI’s “No Fly” list violates the Constitution and ordered big changes. Thirteen American Muslims who were prevented from flying through U.S. airspace filed suit challenging the adequacy of  redress  procedures for people placed on the No Fly list. The judge ruled that the 13 had been denied their due process rights and ordered the government to come up with new procedures for U.S. citizens to challenge their inclusion on the list. AND the judge ruled that the government must actually inform passengers if they are on the list, tell them why and allow them to submit evidence to refute their inclusion. One expects the government to appeal the decision.

This ruling follows on the heels of a January ruling by a federal judge in Virginia who in ruling that placement on the No Fly list “transforms a person into a second class citizen, or worse,” and a ruling in February that finally took Rahinah Ibrahim’s name off the list. Rahinah’s case is a frightening illustration of all that is wrong with the No Fly list. As a graduate student at Stanford, she hoped to board a plane to Hawaii in 2005, but she was led away in handcuffs (she was in a wheel chair at the time) and questioned for hours. She spent seven years in court trying to clear her name. Through it all our government fought her, invoking the state secrets privilege to try to win the case. But it all came out in the end: turns out an FBI agent mistakenly checked the wrong box on some form. She was never even supposed to be on the No Fly List, but the National Security State lied and obfuscated for almost a decade to make sure she stayed on it.