A trial challenging the government’s “No Fly” list began today in a San Francisco federal courtroom. Rahinah Ibrahim, a former Stanford University doctoral student, claims she was mistakenly placed on the list in 2005, and was denied boarding a Hawaii-bound plane from SFO in January of that year.
According to the Mercury News, Ibrahim, a Malaysian national wearing a traditional Muslim hijab, was headed to an academic conference in Kona with her 14-year-old-daughter:
Ibrahim’s routine trip to the airport took a detour that day, sending her on a nearly nine-year odyssey through the American court system — and transforming an esteemed architectural scholar into a crusader against the U.S. government’s secretive system of each year placing thousands of people, mostly foreigners, on “no-fly” lists targeting suspected terrorists.
Ibrahim has disavowed any terrorist connections, yet wound up on such a list. And she has been fighting to clear her name ever since.
Ibrahim sued the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Several similar lawsuits are currently pending; Ibrahim’s is the first to go to trial.
The government has not publicly said why she was added to the list. Government lawyers have argued that a trial poses an unacceptable risk of revealing classified information. Ibrahim has not been allowed to enter the U.S. to testify; instead, her videotaped testimony is being shown to U.S. District Judge William Alsup.
“Dr. Ibrahim is a mother, she’s a renowned scholar. She’s a Stanford graduate,” said Elizabeth Pipkin, Ibrahim’s attorney, to KQED’s Sara Hossaini. “And she’s never been given any reason why she’s been denied the right to travel.”
Pipken and civil liberties advocates say they are hopeful the trial will shed light on the government’s no-fly list and who is put on it. They also hope to challenge the difficulty of getting a name off of it.
“We’re very concerned about the government’s continued attempts to cloak this proceeding in secrecy,” Pipkin said.
“She has suffered because there’s a stigma attached to these lists,” Pipken said. “Once you’re on them, it’s almost impossible to get out. She wants to come back to the United States — she considers it a second home — and work with colleagues here.”
Pipken expressed concern that Ibrahim’s daughter, a U.S. citizen was prevented by U.S. agents from boarding a plane to the U.S. from Malaysia yesterday. Her daughter is one of the trial witnesses.
“[She is] an American citizen attempting to fly to the United States to participate in legal proceedings,” Pipken said. “We’ve asked the government for immediate answers as to why this has occurred.
“The government is not defending this case on its merits, they are using procedural tactics to try to get rid of this case,” Pipkin said. “This is against everything that our American justice system stands for. I think the Department of Justice should come out and defend this case on its merits as opposed to hiding behind procedural objections and litigation tactics invented by lawyers.”
Ibrahim, 48, now lives in Malaysia. She claims she was mistakenly placed on the list because of her national origin and Muslim faith.
After her arrest, she was allowed to return to Malaysia, where she completed her Stanford doctorate remotely and founded the architectural department at the University of Malaysia.
She had previously been a regular traveler to the U.S., according to court papers.