In 2003, when the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center created a list of people who were forbidden from using commercial aircrafts to enter or leave the United States, it was promoted as an important step in ensuring national security, one that followed a national embarrassment. Journalist Erika Trautman noted at the time:
"Prior to the TSC's opening, nine federal agencies kept 12 separate terrorist watch lists that were not always synchronized or shared, a problem that became apparent after Sept. 11, when it came to light that the names of two of the hijackers had been on the CIA's terrorist list. The CIA didn't pass those names to the FBI or immigration officials until after the men had entered the country."
While then US Attorney General John Ashcroft advertised it as a "one-stop shopping” for every federal anti-terrorist screener, objectors to the program warned of very clear foreseeable abuses, like those experienced by the Evansville Eight - eight Egyptian men from Evansville, Indiana who were detained simply because someone had tipped the FBI that they were planning to fly a plane into the Sears Tower in Chicago.
The men were released when it was determined the tip was completely false (and as it later turned out, it had come from the "estranged wife" of one of the eight men).
These days, travel problems result in nightmarish scenarios for many people. Their stories echo each other. Without warning, often when you need to travel back home, you're suddenly informed that are not allowed to use a commercial plane, no reasons are given because it's national security, and the government doesn't want you to know what it knows. This is all done without a trial or due process, just the simple pressing on a keyboard makes one a public enemy.
Naturally, this list favors mostly Muslims, but its dysfunctional growth has entrapped many others, including Senator Ted Kennedy, Robert J. Johnson (surgeon and former Lt. Col. in US Army), journalist Patrick Martin, Princeton University Prof. Walter Murphy, singer Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens), Nelson Mandela, etc.
Last week, the pleasure belonged to Kevin Iraniha, a 27-year-old lifelong San Diagan with a masters degree in international law.
A month before him, AbduRahman Kariye was in court with 14 other men and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), fighting for their right of return.
Reasons for being on a list were mysterious. The irony was not lost on the Chief Judge Alex Kozinsky, who according to Nigel Duara of Salon website, had an exchange with Josh Waldman, the attorney arguing on behalf of the Justice Department:
"Let’s say you want to fly back to Washington and you find yourself on the no-fly list, you’re sitting in an airport, stranded. You think, ‘my God, I went to law school, I work for (the Justice Department), in my heart I know I did nothing wrong.’ What do you do?”
Waldman, not realizing that the Judge was asking him personally, answered that circumstances differed among people on the list.
Nigel Duara notes that this didn't satisfy Kozinky, and he clarified the question, causing the courtroom in erupt in laughter:
"I mean you, yourself. It’s going to be future denials, you can’t fly to vacations, bar mitzvahs, I think people here are interested.”