Jul 06 2012

US continues to banish citizens by no-fly orders

The ongoing saga of attempted banishment of US citizens by their own government, through (secret, standardless, extra-judicial) administrative no-fly orders issued to airlines while those citizens are abroad, continues with two recent cases of San Diego college and university students.

In June, Keven Iraniha was denied boarding for a flight on which he held a ticket from Costa Rica to the USA, apparently (although of course US authorities would neither confirm nor deny this) because the US government had, for some unknown reason, put his name on a no-fly list.

Mr. Iraniha, a California native who was born and raised in the US and who had received his undergraduate degree from San Diego State University, was attempting to return with his family from his graduation  from a masters program in International Law and the Settlement of Disputes at the University of Peace established by international treaty under United Nations auspices in San Jose, Costa Rica.

As with other US citizens recently made the subject of no-fly orders to airlines, such as Yonas Fikre, the US government’s goal may have been primarily to pressure Mr. Iraniha to become an FBI informer, as a precondition to giving him “permission” to return to his country. After being denied passage home, he was questioned by the FBI about his recent travels including his visits to Iran, India, and Egypt.

Is international travel now considered inherently suspicious by the US government?

Unable to find out why all airlines serving the US had been forbidden to transport him home, Mr. Iraniha flew from Costa Rica to Mexico, and re-entered the US by land from Tijuana to San Ysidro (San Diego).

Ali Ahmed, a naturalized US citizen and San Diego City College student currently stranded in Bahrain after the US ordered airlines not to fly him home to the US, has not been so “lucky”.

Mr. Ahmed arrived in the US from Somalia with his family as refugees when he was seven years old. He was on his way from making the Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) to Kenya for a family reunion and arranged wedding there when he was denied entry to Kenya. He doesn’t know why, but it seems reasonable to suspect that Kenyan authorities acted at the behest of the US.

After being denied entry to Kenya, Mr. Ahmed was returned to Bahrain, where his connecting flight to Kenya had originated. But he was denied boarding on two flights from Bahrain to the US, even after being told by staff at the US Embassy to Bahrain that he should buy a new ticket and would be allowed to fly home.

Mr. Ahmed had never planned to do anything more than change planes in Bahrain, and has no citizenship or right of residency there. We suppose that as a US citizen he could, if necessary, take refuge in the US Embassy if Bahrain doesn’t let him stay and he can’t get to anywhere else. But in the circumstances, that might amount to self-imprisonment rather than sanctuary.

It would be difficult and extremely expensive fro Mr. Ahmed to return from Bahrain to the US while airlines are prohibited from transporting him into the US or through US airspace. Canada prevents people on the US no-fly list from flying to or from Canada. Almost all flights between Mexico and Europe or Asia pass through US airspace and have repeatedly been subjected to US no-fly orders.

For Mr. Ahmed to get home in spite of the US no-fly order would require him — if the other countries along the way allow him do so — to fly from Bahrain via Europe or Dubai to somewhere far enough south in Latin America (such as Brazil or Argentina) that the flight doesn’t cross over Florida, then on to Mexico, and then re-enter the US by land from Mexico.

For now, Mr. Ahmed is continuing to try to negotiate assurances from US officials that the US will withdraw its no-fly orders to airlines and allow him to fly home more directly to the US.

It’s past time for the US to recognize that restrictions like these on the rights of US citizens to  leave or return to the country of their citizenship, or to travel within it, are violations of their human rights.