My guest today is journalist and political blogger, William Fisher. Welcome to OpEdNews, Bill. You wrote an article recently about the No-Fly List. What's new with that?
photo credit: Marvin Petal for Business Week
Last week, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that the ACLU's lawsuit challenging the U.S. government's secretive No Fly List should go forward. Here's part of the ACLU's press release:
"This decision is a true victory for our clients and all Americans," said Nusrat Choudhury, Staff Attorney with the ACLU National Security Project. So now comes the not-so-good news.
He explained: "More than two years ago, 15 U.S. citizens and permanent residents, including four military veterans, were denied boarding on planes. None of them know why this happened. And no government authority has ever given them an explanation or a fair chance to clear their names."
What does this all mean? And how many people are affected by the No-Fly List altogether? Are we talking about more than a handful?
It is very difficult to get any accurate numbers for the no-fly list. One reason is that there's more than one list. For example, there's a so-called "watch list" -- people who are to be given extra surveillance if they attempt to board a plane -- in addition to those who are absolutely barred from flying.
Altogether, there are said to be at least a million names in play.
Holy moly! A million people?
And all these lists have been questioned because of the large numbers of errors -- misidentifications, dead people, and so forth, from which in the past there has been no publicly available information to seek your escape. The government has even continued to be vague about who compiles the lists, who operates the databases, how and when the names are used, etc.
I remember reading that Sen. Ted Kennedy was on the No-Fly List at one point. He testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about it in 2009. Kennedy needed DHS Secretary Tom Ridge to get him off the list. What does the average person do who finds himself on that list?
There have been numerous miscarriages of justice. For example, a number of people have taken off by plane for various destinations, unaware that their return ticket had been cancelled "by the authorities" so that they could not return by plane or ship. So they were stranded in a foreign land, trying to get the US embassy or consulate to do something to help them. Eventually, they were able to get some help and came home, but the process sometimes took months.
Who's responsible for this mess?
Most people think the TSA is responsible for the no-fly list. If you ask the Department of Homeland Security, of which the TSA is part, they'll tell you it's the Department of Justice or the joint center for counter-terrorism run by both of them. No one who knows the truth seems eager to tell it. That's one of the reasons this lawsuit should go forward.
That's the upside. The downside is that I think it quite likely that the Obama Administration will invoke the so-called "State Secrets" privilege, as they and the George W. Bush Administration have so often done, to get the entire lawsuit thrown out of a trial court. They may say that any public reporting on the evidence in the suit will pose a dire threat to national security. If the judge agrees, he/she doesn't even get to review the government's position. It is just accepted.