Transparency and Due Process, Because Governments Will Commit Any Crime To Avoid Admitting Error

Rahinah IbrahimDavid Kravets of Wired has a good (in an
infuriating way) write-up
of the story of Rahinah Ibrahim, a woman who was placed on the
no-fly list because of an FBI agent’s clerical error. She spent
nine years fighting to make the federal government acknowledge and
correct its mistake, finally winning just last week. Reason has

covered this case
, including the
vindictive inclusion of U.S. citizen Raihan Mustafa Kamal
Rahinah Ibrahim’s daughter, on the no-fly list to prevent her from
testifying in the case. Ultimately, the story is not just a tale of
injustice, but an illustration of how dangerous it is to allow
government officials to invoke “national security” as a cover for
their actions. As we now know, in this case, they did so through
two administrations simply to avoid being publicly embarrassed by
their bureaucratic incompetence.

As Kravets writes:

After seven years of litigation, two trips to a federal appeals
court and $3.8 million worth of lawyer time, the public has finally
learned why a wheelchair-bound Stanford University scholar was
cuffed, detained and denied a flight from San Francisco to Hawaii:
FBI human error.

FBI agent Kevin Kelley was investigating Muslims in the San
Francisco Bay Area in 2004 when he checked the wrong box on a
terrorism form, erroneously placing Rahinah Ibrahim on the no-fly

What happened next was the real shame. Instead of admitting to
the error, high-ranking President Barack Obama administration
officials spent years covering it up. Attorney General Eric Holder,
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and a litany of
other government officials claimed repeatedly that disclosing the
reason Ibrahim was detained, or even acknowledging that she’d been
placed on a watch list, would cause serious damage to the U.S.
national security. Again and again they asserted the so-called
“state secrets privilege” to block the 48-year-old woman’s lawsuit,
which sought only to clear her name.

Holder went so far as to tell the judge presiding over the case
that this assertion of the state secrets privilege was fully in
keeping with Obama’s much-ballyhooed 2009 executive branch reforms
of the privilege, which stated the administration would invoke
state secrets sparingly.

The Justice Department nearly got away with its shenanigans,
which began under the Bush administration and continued, with no
interruption, under Obama. U.S. District Judge William Alsup
actually tossed Rahinah Ibrahim’s lawsuit out of court at one
point, only to have it reinstated at the appeals level and handed
back to a judge who now very obviously feels used.

How did all this begin? As Alsup details in his
February 6 ruling
, “FBI Special Agent Kevin Michael
Kelley…misunderstood the directions on the form” he was filling
out with regard to Rahinah Ibrahim “and erroneously nominated Dr.
Ibrahim to the TSA’s no-fly list.”

When Ibrahim found out, at the airport, that she couldn’t fly,
she raised a legal fuss—and the feds closed ranks and refused to
admit error. Justice Department officials representing the U.S.
government argued in court that “summary judgment in its favor was
appropriate based on state secrets.”

The big state secret was that a government official screwed up,
and his colleagues and superiors, all the way to the top, tried to
hide that fact.

Wrote Alsup

At long last, the government has conceded that plaintiff poses
no threat to air safety or national security and should never have
been placed on the no-fly list. She got there by human error within
the FBI. This too is conceded. This was no minor human error but an
error with palpable impact, leading to the humiliation, cuffing,
and incarceration of an innocent and incapacitated air traveler.
That it was human error may seem hard to accept — the FBI agent
filled out the nomination form in a way exactly opposite
from the instructions on the form, a bureaucratic analogy to a
surgeon amputating the wrong digit — human error, yes, but of
considerable consequence.

Years of litigation through two administrations from
different political parties, both of which tried to make it all go
away by claiming that everything was much too hush-hush to be dealt
with by a mere court. State secrets don’t you know. A woman was
dragged through humiliation, expense, and injustice because
government officials didn’t want to admit a mistake by a relatively
low-level flunky.

This is why transparency is important. This is why due process
is important. Because, at the end of the day, the Attorney General
of the United States, law enforcement agents, and apparatchiks
great and small would rather torment people and lie than say,
“Whoops. Our bad!”

Proper procedures, public scrutiny, appeals processes, and
protections for individual rights exist not as inefficient
annoyances, but as checks on officials who are, deep down, petty

from Hit & Run

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