Archive for the ‘Freedom To Travel’ Category

Decision in first “no-fly” trial finally unsealed

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

The complete complete unredacted decision in favor of Dr.. Rahinah Ibrahim issued by U.S. District Judge William Alsup in January, following the first trial in any case challenging a US government “no-fly” order, was finally made public today by order of the court.  (Unredacted version as unsealed; version with previously redacted portions highlighted.)   The deadline for any appeal has passed, and this order is now final.

Despite the government’s claims that the redactions were of vital “state secrets”, the formerly-redacted portions of the decision, and the declarations filed yesterday by the government, shed relatively little new light on what happened to Dr. Ibrahim and her family. They do, however, contain a previously-redacted chronicle of her having been placed on and off various “watchlists” (de facto blacklists) while her lawsuit was pending, and of a previously unmentioned exception to the nonbinding “standards” for watchlisting:

45. To repeat, government counsel have conceded at trial and this order finds that Dr. Ibrahim is not a threat to the national security of the United States. She does not pose (and has not posed) a threat of committing an act of international or domestic terrorism with respect to an aircraft, a threat to airline passenger or civil aviation security, or a threat of domestic terrorism.

46. In March 2005, Dr. Ibrahim filed a Passenger Identity Verification Form (PIVF) (TX 76).  [This was a predecessor to the DHS-TRIP form.]

47. In December 2005, Dr. Ibrahim was removed from the selectee list. Around this time, however, she was added to TACTICS (used by Australia) and TUSCAN (used by Canada). No reason was provided for this at trial.

48. On January 27, 2006, this action was filed.

49. In a form dated February 10, 2006, an unidentified government agent requested that Dr. Ibrahim be “Remove[d] From ALL Watchlisting Supported Systems (For terrorist subjects: due to closure of case AND no nexus to terrorism)” (TX 10). For the question “Is the individual qualified for placement on the no fly list,” the “No” box was checked. For the question, “If no, is the individual qualified for placement on the selectee list,” the “No” box was checked.

50. In 2006, the government determined that Dr. Ibrahim did not meet the reasonable suspicion standard. On September 18, 2006, Dr. Ibrahim was removed from the TSDB. The trial record, however, does not show whether she was removed from all of the customer watchlists subscribing to the TSDB.

51. In a letter dated March 1, 2006, the TSA responded to Dr. Ibrahim’s PIVF submission… The response did not indicate Dr. Ibrahim’s status with respect to the TSDB and no-fly and selectee lists.

52. One year later, on March 2, 2007, Dr. Ibrahim was placed back in the TSDB. The trial record does not show why or which customer watchlists were to be notified.

53. Two months later, however, on May 30, 2007, Dr. Ibrahim was again removed from the TSDB. The trial record does not show the extent to which Dr. Ibrahim’s name was then removed from the customer watchlists, nor the reason for the removal.

54. Dr. Ibrahim did not apply for a new visa from 2005 to 2009. In 2009, however, she applied for a visa to attend proceedings in this action. On September 29, 2009, Dr. Ibrahim was interviewed at the American Embassy in Kuala Lumpur for her visa application.

55. On October 20, 2009, Dr. Ibrahim was nominated to the TSDB pursuant to a secret exception to the reasonable suspicion standard. The nature of the exception and the reasons for the nomination are claimed to be state secrets. In Dr. Ibrahim’s circumstance, the effect of the nomination was that Dr. Ibrahim’s information was exported solely to the Department of State’s CLASS database and the United States Customs and Border Patrol’s TECS database.

56. From October 2009 to present, Dr. Ibrahim has been included in the TSDB, CLASS, and TECS. She has been off the no-fly and selectee lists….

60. On December 14, 2009, Dr. Ibrahim’s visa application was denied….

64. The TSC has determined that Dr. Ibrahim does not currently meet the reasonable suspicion standard for inclusion in the TSDB. She, however, remains in the TSDB pursuant to a classified and secret exception to the reasonable suspicion standard. Again, both the reasonable suspicion standard and the secret exception are self-imposed processes and procedures within the Executive Branch.

65. In September 2013, Dr. Ibrahim submitted a visa application so that she could attend the trial on this matter…. Trial in this action began on December 2 and ended on December 6. As of December 6, Dr. Ibrahim had not received a response to her visa application. At trial, however, government counsel stated verbally that the visa had been denied. Plaintiff’s counsel said that they had not been so aware and that Dr. Ibrahim had not been so notified….

70. Since 2005, Dr. Ibrahim has never been permitted to enter the United States.

The other most significant remaining questions concern Dr. Ibrahim’s daughter, Ms. Raihan Mustafa Kamal, who was born in the US and is a US citizen, but was prevented from flying to the US to observe and testify at her mother’s trial. (Previous reporting about Ms. Mustafa Kamal here, here, and here.)

According to a section of Judge Alsup’s decision (pp. 24-25) about Ms. Mustafa Kamal that was previously redacted in its entirety:

On December 1 [2013], the National Targeting Center (“NTC”) within the Department of Homeland Security began vetting passengers for the Philippine Airlines flight. NTC officers determined that Ms. Kamal was matched to a record that was listed in the TSDB in a category which notifies the Department of State and Department of Homeland Security that other government agencies may be in possession of substantive “derogatory” information about the individual that may be relevant to an admissibility determination under the Immigration and Nationality Act. United States citizens, of course, are not subject to the admissibility provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act….

On December 2, Ms. Kamal’s records were updated in the TSDB to reflect that she was a United States citizen. The request for additional screening was rescinded and it was requested that Ms. Kamal be allowed to board without delay.

Since Ms, Mustafa Kamal was not a party to her mother’s case (although the government had been notified that she was a potential witness), the issues related to her were not pursued or resolved in that case.

So we still don’t know what “derogatory” information would be relevant to the “admissibility” to the US of a US citizen, or why DHS is keeping records of such information or “watchlisting” such individuals.

Also today, Judge Alsup ruled that the government must pay some, but not all, of Dr. Ibrahim’s legal fees and costs. The exact amount remains to be determined by a special master.  Judge Alsup found that the government had been “unreasonable” in many of its actions and arguments, but had not been shown to have acted in bad faith.

As we’ve previously reported, other no-fly cases are moving forward, with that of Gulet Mohamed (currently in the early stages of discovery in Disctrict Court on remand following denial by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals of the government’s motions to dismiss) likely next in line for trial.

FBI tells Dr. Ibrahim she’s not on the “no-fly” list

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

Yesterday, in response to a court order, the FBI — the nominal “owner” of the US government’s “no-fly” list — sent the letter above to Dr. Rahinah Ibrahim, informing her that she isn’t on that list.

This is the first time the US government has ever officially disclosed to an individual whether they are on the “no-fly” list, although of course — as the judge noted during the trial in Dr. Ibrahim’s lawsuit challenging her placement on the “no-fly” list — anyone can tell that they are on the list if they are prevented from flying despite having a valid ticket and all other required documents and complying with all of the rules the airline’s tariff.

Attorney General Eric Holder and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper personally signed declarations under penalty of perjury that to disclose exactly this information, to Dr. Ibrahim specifically, would harm national security, and that this information was therefore a “state secret”.

Needless to say, the sky didn’t fall yesterday when the FBI told Dr. Ibrahim the “state secret” that she is not on the “no-fly” list.

The letter from the FBI to Dr. Ibrahim was included in a set of declarations from officials of Orwellian US government organizations like the “Directorate of Terrorist Identities” which were filed with the court by the government yesterday to show that it had complied with the order by U.S. District Judge William Alsup.

These declarations give interesting insights into the structure of the various interlocking databases, but say nothing about the criteria for “no-fly” and other blacklisting and watchlisting decision.

Despite Dr. Ibrahim not being on the “no-fly” list, and despite testimony at the trial that she poses no threat, she has repeatedly been denied a visa to return to the US on the grounds that she “has engaged in terrorist activity” and is the spouse or child (presumably this allegation relates to her husband) of a person who is similarly inadmissible to the US, pursuant to 8 U.S. Code §1182(a)(3)(B)(i)(I) and §1182(a)(3)(B)(i)(IX). Her latest visa application was refused on these gourds just this Monday, April 14, 2014, at the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

The declarations filed by the government say nothing about what happened to Dr. Ibrahim’s daughter, Ms. Raihan Mustafa Kamal, who was born in the US and is a US citizen, but was prevented from flying to the US to observe and testify at her mother’s trial. (Previous reporting about Ms. Mustafa Kamal here, here, and here.)

In accordance with Judge Alsup’s orders, and the government’s decision not to appeal, the unredacted version of Judge Alsup’s findings (including several pages of sealed findings concerning what happened to Ms. Mustafa Kamal) was scheduled to be unsealed yesterday.  The decision is now officially “unsealed”, but is still being processed by the court clerk’s office. We’ll publish it as soon as we receive it.

TSA fines “Naked American Hero” $500

Saturday, April 5th, 2014

The TSA has assessed a $500 civil penalty against “Naked American Hero” John Brennan, who removed all his clothes at a TSA checkpoint at the Portland, Oregon, airport in 2012 to show that he wasn’t carrying any weapons or explosives and in protest of the TSA’s practices.

Mr. Brennan was arrested at PDX airport by Portland police on April 17, 2012, but he was found not guilty of criminal charges in June 2012 by a county judge on the grounds that, under local Portland ordinances and Oregon state law, nakedness for purposes of political protest is not a crime.

After Mr. Brennan’s acquittal, a TSA investigator proposed that he be penalized $1000 for “interfering” with TSA screening.  In accordance with a memorandum of understanding between the TSA and the Coast Guard, the TSA has delegated its administrative authority to determine whether to assess such a penalty, and if so, the amount of the penalty, to an “Administrative Law Judge” (ALJ) from the U.S. Coast Guard.

(Why the Coast Guard? The TSA doesn’t have any ALJs on its own payroll, so it contracts out their functions with respect to TSA decisions to the Coast Guard as a parallel component of the DHS.)

Coast Guard ALJ George J. Jordan presided over a formal administrative hearing which we attended and reported on in Portland on May 14, 2013.

Almost a year after that hearing and almost two years after the underlying events at the airport, ALJ Jordan has finally issued an initial decision to assess a $500 penalty (reduced from the $1000 proposed by the TSA investigator) along with a set of findings of fact and conclusions of law.

Contrary to some headlines, no court has yet considered, much less upheld, the TSA’s decision, and no independent third party has yet reviewed, much less ruled on, the TSA’s complaint against Mr. Brennan.

Both the terminology and the TSA’s outsourcing of its own internal decision-making to Coast Guard employees make it easy to misunderstand what has happened.

Just as the checkpoint staff the TSA calls “Transportation Security Officers” are not law enforcement officers, so-called “Administrative Law Judges” are not judges or officers of any court. The “formal administrative hearing” was held in a courtroom (rented for the day by the TSA from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court), but it was not a trial and was not a proceeding of any actual court.

ALJ Jordan was acting not as an independent party, but as a DHS employee subcontracted by the TSA (only because the TSA doesn’t have its own ALJs, not because this was required) to make the TSA’s own initial, internal decision.  ALJ Jordan’s decision was issued on behalf of, and under the authority of, the TSA itself, as the TSA’s own initial decision on the complaint of its own investigator.

Almost two years after he was arrested, Mr. Brennan’s only day in any court has been when he was acquitted of all criminal charges in county court. ALJ Jordan’s initial decision on behalf of the TSA will be subjected to further internal review by the head of the TSA or his designee. Only after that review will the TSA’s final internal decision, as made by the head of the agency or his designee, be subject to review by any court or outside body.

ALJ Jordan explicitly recognized that he had no authority to consider whether Mr. Brennan’s conduct was protected by the First Amendment or whether the TSA’s regulations or actions were otherwise invalid. Only after the ALJ’s initial decision is reviewed internally within the TSA, and the TSA issues its final order, will Mr. Brennan be entitled to petition a Circuit Court of Appeals to review and make initial rulings on those issues.

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District Court dismisses complaint in Mocek v. Albuquerque

Friday, April 4th, 2014

Judge James O. Browning of the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico has dismissed Phillip Mocek’s complaints against the city of Albuquerque, the Albuquerque Police Department, and the individual Albuquerque police officers who falsely arrested him (at the behest of the TSA) in 2009 at a TSA checkpoint at the Albuquerque Sunport, improperly seized and tried to delete his digital recordings that provided the best evidence of their misconduct, and filed false reports about what had happened.

Mr. Mocek had arrived at the airport with a valid ticket but without any government-issued ID credentials. He was trying to exercise his right to travel through a public facility and by common carrier, and to document the process of flying without showing government-issued ID credentials. (More about Mocek v. Albuquerque et al.)

Mr. Mocek has until April 29, 2014, to decide whether to appeal any or all of the District Court’s rulings to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit.

We’ll have more to say about the District Court’s latest decision once Mr. Mocek decides whether to appeal.

Interpol renews push for worldwide ID-based travel controls

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

Despite admitting that it was “too soon to speculate about any connection between these stolen passports and the missing plane,” Interpol officials did not hesitate to use the fact that two passengers on the missing Malaysian Airlines flight used stolen passports as the opportunity to step up its longstanding campaign for a global travel control system in which all travelers worldwide will be required to: (a) show standardized government-issued travel credentials, and (b) have those credentials “vetted” against a global blacklist maintained by Interpol, before being given permission to buy an airline ticket or “open a bank account, rent a car or check into a hotel”.

(more…)

More no-fly and “watchlist” cases on track (slowly) toward trial

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

The decision last week by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Arjmand v. DHS sets another challenge to a DHS “watchlist” on track toward a trial on the merits in Federal District Court, this time in Los Angeles.

Equally or more importantly, this decision reaffirms and extends the rejection by the Courts of Appeals, perhaps especially the 9th Circuit, of the government’s attempt to avoid a trial on the merits of “watchlisting” decisions or the Constitutionality of the system of extrajudicial administrative “watchlists” that includes the “no-fly” list.

(more…)

UN Human Rights Committee calls on US to effectuate the ICCPR

Friday, March 28th, 2014

Following two days of face-to-face public questioning (Day 1, Day 2) of a US government delegation earlier this month, the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) has published its concluding observations on US implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

The UNHRC’s concluding observations include a strong endorsement of our call for Congress to enact legislation to “effectuate” the ICCPR by making the treaty enforceable by US courts, particularly where violations of the ICCPR do not constitute violations of any other US law.  As one of its key recommendations, the UNHRC says that:

The State party [i.e. the US] should … Taking into account its declaration that provisions of the Covenant are non-self-executing, ensure that effective remedies are available for violations of the Covenant, including those that do not, at the same time, constitute violations of U.S. domestic law, and undertake a review of such areas with a view to proposing to the Congress implementing legislation to fill any legislative gaps.

At the end of a press conference announcing the UNHRC’s concluding observations concerning the US, UNHRC Chairperson Nigel Rodley had this to say about committee’s review of US implementation  of the ICCPR the need for judicial enforcement and accountability for human rights violations:

Of course they [the US government's representatives] stressed the improvements they’ve made, so that people wouldn’t be doing the same things in the future. But absolutely not — there was no suggestion that any of those responsible for any of the past criminal violations of our Covenant [i.e. the ICCPR] would be brought to justice or that its victims would have access to their day in court.

The UNHRC’s concluding observations recommend that, “The responsibility of those who provided legal pretexts for manifestly illegal behavior should also be established.”

We won’t hold our breath for Congress to act, but we hope that this recommendation from the only independent body officially empowered to review the state of human rights treaty compliance by the US will prompt members of Congress to consider sponsoring legislation to create a cause of action for violations of the ICCPR and give US courts jurisdiction to hear such complaints.

The UNHRC also criticized US mass surveillance, but mentioned only communication surveillance and metadata and not the closely related issue of NSA and DHS mass surveillance of travel metadata.

UN Human Rights Committee review of US implementation of the ICCPR: Day 2

Friday, March 14th, 2014

US government delegation listens to questions from the UN Human Rights Committee. (Click image for larger version.) At the head table, left to right: Scott Shuchart (Senior Adviser, Office of Civil Rights & Civil Liberties, DHS), Megan Mack (Officer for Civil Rights & Civil Liberties, DHS), Bruce Swartz (Deputy Assistant Attorney General, DOJ), Roy Austin, Jr. (Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division, DOJ), Mary McLeod (head of the US delegation and Principal Deputy Legal Adviser, Department of State). US Army Brigadier General Richard Gross (Legal Counsel to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Department of Defense) in profile at left in front of Ms. Mack.

Questioning of a US government delegation by the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) concerning US implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) continued today in Geneva.

Many of the same issues as were raised in yesterday’s first round of questions from members of the Human Rights Committee continued to be pursued in today’s follow-up questioning, along with other concerns including NSA surveillance and collection of communications metadata.

But as the day went on, there was an increasing focus on the “meta-issues” of applicability, enforceability, and remedies and redress for violations of the rights guaranteed by the ICCPR:

  • Does the US accept that everyone subject to US jurisdiction is entitled to human rights, as the Human Rights Committee and almost every other party to the ICCPR (except Israel) interprets the treaty to mean?  Or does the treaty only apply to US actions within its borders, allowing the US to violate human rights abroad with impunity?
  • In light of the US interpretation of the ICCPR as not being “self-executing”, and the failure of Congress to enact effectuating legislation to enable the treaty to be invoked in US courts, what “effective” means of judicial redress (as required by the ICCPR itself) are available to those whose human rights are violated, especially if those violations of the ICCPR don’t also constitute violations of domestic US law?

This latter point, raised today by at least four members of the UNHRC, was one that we had taken the lead in asking the UNHRC to address, through both an initial and a supplemental submission to the UNHRC in advance of this week’s session.

The head of the US government delegation, Mary McLeod of the State Department, responded to these questions today by telling the UNHRC that the US “sees no need” to allow the ICCPR to be invoked in US courts.

Her implicit message, and that of the other members of the US delegation in their responses to questions about specific issues, was that internal administrative measures provide an adequate substitute for judicial oversight or enforcement of human rights obligations.

But many of those claims about administrative “remedies” rang hollow:

  • DHS Officer for Civil Rights & Civil Liberties Megan Mack, who has been officially designated as responsible for implementation of the ICCPR by the DHS, said that her office “enforces” DHS administrative standards for use of deadly force by US Customs and Border Protection officers.  But she didn’t mention that her office is purely advisory, and has no authority to order any sanctions against CBP officers or any other DHS employees or contractors.
  • Ms. Mack told the UNHRC that her office “receives complaints” of violations of the ICCPR by DHS components, which is true. But she didn’t tell the UNHRC that  some of those  complaints, including some of ours, have been pending with her office for years without any response.  Nor did she mention that her office has claimed that violations of the ICCPR were “authorized” by US law, suggesting a profoundly mistaken belief that the US can derogate from its treaty obligations by enacting domestic statutes.
  • Roy Austin, Jr., Deputy Assistant Attorney General and head of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, told the UNHRC how important it is to ensure that people who believe their human rights have been violated have a place to complain, and receive a response to their complaint.  But he didn’t disclose to the UNHRC that — as we learned in response to one of our FOIA requests — his Department has no record of ever having designated a point of contact for such complaints, or of ever having responded to any of them.
  • Deputy Assistant Attorney General Bruce Swartz talked about Attorney General Holder’s policy that his “Department will not defend an invocation of the [state secrets] privilege to conceal … administrative error”, but didn’t mention that A.G. Holder personally signed a sworn declaration to the court in the first “no-fly” trial, explicitly quoting that policy while invoking the state secrets privilege to try to prevent the plaintiff, who the government admitted posed no danger, from learning or obtaining redress for her having been placed on the “no-fly” list as a result of what the government admits was a mistake by an FBI agent who checked the boxes on a form he was supposed to un-check and un-chekked the boxes he was supposed to check.

Throughout the day, there was much talk of “guidelines” and “policies”, but little talk of laws or of whether practices conform to aspirational administrative “guidance”.

The UNHRC is expected to issue its report on US implementation of the ICCPR , in the form of “concluding observations” from its review, on March 27th.

UN Human Rights Committee review of US implementation of the ICCPR: Day 1

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

Public questioning by the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) of a delegation from the US government on the subject of US implementation (or not) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) began today in Geneva, Switzerland, and will continue tomorrow. The proceedings are part of the periodic review of each party to the ICCPR, which the treaty itself mandates be conducted every five years by the UNHRC.

The UNHRC consists of independent individual experts, not representatives of national governments as in the confusingly similarly-named UN Human Rights Council. The ad hoc 32-member US delegation consists of high-level but not top-level officials (e.g. the Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for Policy) from half a dozen Federal executive (administrative) agencies led by the Department of State, along with officials from one state (Mississippi) and one municipal (Salt Lake City, UT) government.

With well-designed symbolism, the members of the the US government delegation and the UN Human Rights Committee, facing each other across the central well of the circular Salle XVIII in the UN’s “Palais des Nations”, were almost encircled by rising rings of observers from an NGO delegation of unprecendented size and diversity. Almost 100 human rights activists, mainly from the  the USA but also from other countries where people are concerned about human rights violations in the US and by the US government, came to the UNHRC session. Many more organizations who couldn’t afford to attend the session in Geneva in person made written submissions in advance to the UNHRC of suggestions for issues, questions, and “concluding observations”.

Members of the UNHRC welcomed the NGO presence — unprecedented in scale and diversity — despite describing it in their opening remarks as “overwhelming”.  Human rights aren’t just an issue for women or for people of color, and the US rainbow is well represented. But it says a great deal about the unbalanced gender and racial burdens of human rights violations in the US that perhaps 80% of the US NGO delegation are women and a similar percentage are people of color. Traditional leaders and tribal governments of Native Americans, Native Alaskans, and Native Hawaiians are also in attendance, lumped together by UN procedural rules with “non-governmental” organizations.

The proceedings today were webcast, as those tomorrow will be, and will also be archived for streaming on demand. “Every animal is equal,” UNHRC Chair Nigel Rodley quipped as he called today’s session to order, “But not every animal can get UN TV to the Human Rights Committee,” a small and normally quiet corner of the complicated system of UN treaty bodies. But this is the US, and no other country’s actions have such extraterritorial impacts, good or bad, on the human rights of people around the world.

The UNHRC is authorized by the ICCPR to issue “Concluding Observations” after its review of each country’s implementation of the treaty, but has no power to enforce its recommendations. Despite this major limitation, the extreme reluctance of the US to accept any external oversight over its actions leaves the UNHRC as the sole international body with the authority to compel the US government, on a regular basis (albeit for only two days every five years), to respond publicly to cross-examination  about its human rights record.

For those tuning in for the first time to the UN TV webcast today and tomorrow, it may seem like this is the culmination of the process of review of the US by the UNHRC. At first glance, it might even look like the public dialogue between the UNHRC and the US government is “the review”.

But those of us who’ve been part of the process know that this week’s events in Geneva are neither its start nor its end. (more…)

Public questioning of US government on human rights

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

Today and tomorrow in Geneva (early Thursday and  Friday morning in the USA), a delegation from the US government will be questioned publicly by members of the UN Human Rights Committee about US implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Here’s the schedule of the webcast public questioning:

  • Thursday, March 13, 15:00-18:30 Geneva time (7 am-10:30 am PDT, 10 am-1:30 pm EDT)
  • Friday, March 14, 10:00-13:00 Geneva time (2 am-5 am PDT, 5 am-8 am EDT)
  • tentative additional session Friday, March 14, 14:00-17:00 Geneva time (6 am-9 am PDT, 9 am-noon EDT)

This is neither the first nor the last step, but a critical step, in the review conducted by the Human Rights Committee every five years (as with each other country that is a party to the treaty) of US implementation of this international human rights treaty.

We’ll have more details after the sessions, but here are some quick links for those tuning in to the webcast: