Sunday, 10 February 2013

Tales of Kafka

Speaking of Shin Bet-style tactics, Glenn Greenwald details in The Guardian the troubling fate of Saadiq Long, 43, a U.S. citizen and veteran banned from flying home from his job teaching English in Qatar to see his dying mother. Long ended up on the so-called ‘no-fly list’ that the FBI maintains to keep allegedly dangerous elements off airplanes. It’s not as bad as Obama’s Tuesday afternoon kill lists, but it shares certain elements, namely total secrecy and no appeals.

Long has never been charged with a crime and spent months futilely trying to find out why he made the list, which prevents airlines from boarding him. (It’s pretty hard to get home from Qatar without taking an airplane.) Greenwald wrote about him once before, and that article may have budged the faceless bureaucracy.
Two weeks after that article was published, Long - without explanation - was finally removed from the no-fly list and he flew from Doha to Oklahoma City to visit his mother and other family members. He took several flights to make the 20-hour journey, all without incident. He has remained in Oklahoma for the last ten weeks, visiting his family in the US for the first time in over a decade.

But now Long - unbeknownst to him - has once again apparently been secretly placed by some unknown National Security State bureaucrat on the no-fly list. On [Jan. 30], he went to the Will Rogers Airport in Oklahoma City to fly back home to Qatar. In order to ensure there were no problems, his lawyer sent the FBI a letter ahead of time notifying them that Long would be flying home on that date.

But without explanation, Long was denied a boarding pass at the airport by a Delta Airlines agent. Three local police officers then arrived on the scene, followed by a US Transportation Security Administration agent who told Long he could not board but did not give him a specific reason.

No one else did either, including the airline (Delta), the TSA, or FBI headquarters.

As Greenwald writes, ‘Imagine imagine being a U.S. citizen, denied the right to travel home—first to your own country, then back to your family—by a government that has never charged you with any crime or indicated you have engaged in wrongdoing of any sort’.
But what’s particularly infuriating here is that, if they had evidence that Long has done anything wrong, they easily could have arrested him at any point over the last ten weeks when he was in the U.S.
Greenwald then argues that the FBI couldn’t possibly think Long is really a threat because they have had amply opportunity to arrest him. Or if the evidence was too shaky, they could put an air marshal on the plane next to him with a loaded gun. His conclusion is that the no-fly list is not meant to protect us but to ‘mete out extra-judicial punishment’.

He notes that the list has grown under Obama to 21,000 names as per an AP report, including 500 Americans. To obtain the distinction, one now need not be determined a threat to aviation but a threat to ‘domestic or international security’, whatever that means. Another example of Obama deepening and in fact worsening the abuses of the Bush years.

Greenwald’s earlier article about Long generated protests and some thousands of emails to the local FBI office in Oklahoma City. So that could be an underlying motive of the harassment.

But there’s also another possibility, as suggested by the previous post about Shin Bet: Long is well positioned for recruitment by U.S. intelligence agencies trying to penetrate Muslim groups in the Arab Gulf states. What if he has been approached to spy on his friends and colleagues and said no? The Shin Bet guys knew how to pressure, cajole, threaten and harass sources into informing on their fellow villagers and even relatives, and the FBI are past masters of it (note, for example, the fictionalized but entirely credible handling of na├»ve Adriana in The Sopranos). Maybe Long just refused to participate and is now paying the price.

Meanwhile, he has no remedy and must seek alternative routes back to Qatar without falling into the hands of other foreign governments equally disposed to harass or even imprison and torture him. It’s happened plenty of times even without active U.S. complicity. As Greenwald summarizes:
So now he's just in a no-man's land. He can't contest the accusations against him because there are none. After being blocked for months from visiting his own country and his terminally ill mother, he's now barred from returning to his home, his job, and his own family. All of this is done by his own government without a shred of due process, transparency or accountability.
The foundation of this state behavior is the idea that a U.S. government determination that you are a bad guy is fully equivalent to guilt. With this attitude, largely endorsed by the American public, I might add, which places priority on its own safety and comfort above the constitutional protections provided by the Founding Fathers, we are back to state punishment without charge, bills of attainder and the Star Chamber, with our only hope not being personally dragged into the whirlwind of persecution.

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