If ever there seemed to be the need for an internal probe of an organization, it would certainly appear to be that of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California and others involved in various aspects of a “No-Fly List” trial currently going on there. The conduct that would give rise to review relates to behavior that has the appearance of an attempt by the government to keep a witness from testifying at trial.
The matter of concern starts with the story of Rahinah Ibrahim and her suit against the federal government for its actions in the wake of putting her on the “No Fly” list eight years ago. As reported by The New York Times on November 30, 2013:
“For people who have landed on these [no-fly and other] lists, the terrorist designation has been difficult to challenge legally — although that may be about to change. On Monday, a lawsuit brought by a traveler seeking removal of her name from the no-fly list, or at least due process to challenge that list, is going to trial in Federal District Court in San Francisco, after almost eight years of legal wrangling.
In that case, a Stanford University Ph.D. student named Rahinah Ibrahim was prevented from boarding a flight at San Francisco International Airport in 2005, and was handcuffed and detained by the police. Ultimately, she was allowed to fly to Malaysia, her home country, but she has been unable to return to the United States because the State Department revoked her student visa.
According to court filings, two agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation visited Ms. Ibrahim a week before her trip and asked about her religious activities (she is Muslim), her husband and what she might know of a Southeast Asian terrorist organization. A summary of that interview obtained by Ms. Ibrahim’s lawyer includes a code indicating that the visit was related to an international terrorism investigation, but it is not clear what other evidence — like email or phone records — was part of that inquiry.
‘We’ve tried to get discovery into whether our client has been surveilled and have been shut down on that,’ said Elizabeth Pipkin, a lawyer with McManis Faulkner, the firm representing Ms. Ibrahim pro bono. ‘They won’t answer that question for us.’
The government says that revealing this type of information would jeopardize national security. In April, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. asserted to the court ‘a formal claim of the state secrets privilege’ in the case.”
Last week, noted attorney and White Collar Defense Attorneys Group owner Michael E. Clark, posted an article from techdirt.com on LinkedIn that tracked the progress of Ibrahim’s lawsuit. It reported curious goings-on from the outset on that Monday:
“Apparently, one of the people set to testify in the case, Ibrahim’s oldest daughter, Raihan Mustafa Kamal (an American citizen, born in the US), was blocked from boarding her flight to the US to appear at the trial, and told that she was on the no fly list as well. Kamal, a lawyer, was an eye witness to her mother being blocked from boarding her flight. The US knew that Kamal was set to testify and from all indications, in a move that appears extremely petty, appears to have purposely blocked her from flying to the US. Kamal was directly told by the airline that DHS had ordered them not to let Kamal to board. The airline even gave her a phone number for a Customs and Border Patrol office in Miami, telling her to call that concerning her not being able to board.
Judge William Alsup, who is known for his rather no-nonsense approach in court (and his willingness to dig very deep into understanding the issues), quickly noted that this apparent blocking of Kamal was ridiculous, and demanded that the government explain what happened. When they insisted they knew nothing about it, Alsup wasn’t satisfied. Nor was he satisfied with the story they eventually came back with [that she simply missed her flight].”
‘We may have to have a separate evidentiary hearing about this,’ Judge Alsup said and ordered the defendants to provide further information tomorrow… ‘I want to know whether the government did something to obstruct a witness, a U.S. citizen.”
It would be an understatement to suggest that Judge Alsup is not impressed with the US government’s actions so far. The notes from day two in the trial provide a lot more background on what happened. It would appear that the lawyers for Ibrahim are making a (rather compelling, from the evidence) case that bumbling US law enforcement officials confused two very different Malaysian organizations with similar names: Jemaah Islamiyah Malaysia, which is a terrorist organization, and Jamaah Islah Malaysia, “a non-profit professional networking group for Muslims who have returned to Malaysia after post-secondary schooling in the U.S. and Europe.” The two organizations are, as you would imagine, quite different. Ibrahim is involved in the latter, and has no connection to the former, but it sounds like the FBI agents who interviewed her were unaware of the difference.
The further details of Ibrahim’s life, her arrest and treatment, all suggest a situation where US law enforcement totally screwed up, and seriously mucked up someone’s life — and now they seem to be doing everything possible to avoid taking responsibility for it.”
If the government intentionally put Ibrahim’s daughter on a no-fly list with the knowledge that she was under subpoena to appear in a trial here in the U.S., then someone or some people in its employ may have been doing more than ducking responsibility for mucking up others’ lives.
Indeed, there might be a litany of criminal charges in the obstruction vein that would fit the right factual scenario, if it were found at the heart of this matter. Somebody or some cadre of government employees might be worthy of indictment, if the chips fall a certain way. And then there is the trial court’s plenary power to inquire into and punish contempt.
Possible manipulation or corruption of the judicial process certainly seems to call out for an internal investigation of the government agencies and individuals involved in the Ibrahim Travel-Gate problems in San Francisco and beyond.