Feb 15 2013

“Sentenced to life without air travel”

Last year, we reported on the case of Saadiq Long, an Oklahoma native and U.S. Air Force veteran who was stranded in Qatar for six monthes, unable to return home because for unknown reasons he had been placed on a “no-fly” list, and all airlines serving the U.S. had been forbidden to transport him, on the basis of some secret allegedly-derogatory information provided by some unknown government agency that had “nominated” him for this latest version of the U.S. government’s  “enemies list”.

Eventually, in the face of public hue and cry, the FBI relented (temporarily, it turns out) and allowed Mr. Long to return to Oklahoma to spend Thanksgiving with his critically ill mother.

Happy ending to a sad story? No.

Mr. Long’s attorney, Gadeir Abbas of CAIR, who has led the legal fight against U.S. government “no-fly” orders, has an update this week in an op-ed article in the Oklahoman, the state’s newspaper of record:

Mr. Long has been living and working (for U.S. military contractors among other clients) in Qatar, where his wife and daughter remained while he went back to the U.S. for the holidays. But after letting him come home, the U.S. government has now put him back on the “no-fly” list, and won’t let him leave the country:

What’s most alarming about Saadiq’s ordeal is that the FBI will never have to explain its actions. When it comes to separating Saadiq — and many others — from family via its ever-growing and always secret watch lists, the FBI is judge, jury and executioner. Saadiq hasn’t been indicted, charged or convicted of any crime. And yet the FBI has claimed for itself the power to impose permanent punishment upon Saadiq: life without air travel. If FBI agents can impose this sentence on Saadiq, they can do the same to any of us.

Feb 05 2013

“TSA out of the MBTA!”

An ad hoc TSA out of the MBTA! group help a march and rally Saturday on Boston Common to protest the ongoing warrantless, suspicionless searches of passengers’ property on the Boston-area MBTA subway and streetcar system.  The protest was endorsed by groups including Occupy Boston and the Mass Pirate Party.

We’re encouraged to see growing resistance to the TSA’s mission creep in expanding its warrantless, suspicionless searches, interrogations, and seizures from air to surface transportation.  These searches on the “T” and other transit systems were illegitimate and unconstitutional when they started in 2004, and they remain so today.

If there’s a particular lesson here, it’s in the importance of resistance from the start of new encroachments on our rights.  No matter how “special” the circumstances in which new police programs are instituted, or how “temporary” they are claimed to be, the natural tendency is for them to become permanent.  “Enough is enough. We’ve been sleeping on this,” one participant in Saturday’s march and rally told the Boston Herald.

Checkpoints and dragnet searches on the MBTA were initiated in 2004, ostensibly as part of “special” and “temporary” security measures for the 2004 Democratic Party national convention in Boston.  They drew immediate protests which continued through the convention.

A Federal judge denied a request by the National Lawyers Guild for a preliminary injunction against the searches. Because the lawsuit had been framed in terms of the issues specific to the area around the convention, the lawsuit foundered after the convention delegates went home. But the searches continue.

Feb 04 2013

Update on Mocek v. Albuerque

On January 14, 2013, U.S. District Judge James O. Browning issued his first major ruling in Mocek v. Albuquerque, the Federal civil rights lawsuit brought for false arrest at a TSA checkpoint brought by Philip Mocek following his acquittal by a jury on trumped-up criminal charges.

Judge Browning dismissed Mr. Mocek’s complaints against the Federal (TSA) defendants.  The reasoning of that ruling is in marked conflict with several findings on the same issues by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Tobey v. Jones, although that decision isn’t binding on the District Court hearing Mr. Mocek’s case since it’s in a different Federal judicial circuit.

According to the Albuquerque Journal, “Mary Lou Boelcke, Mocek’s attorney, said she expects to appeal the ruling, either before trial or after Browning decides other issues regarding the city.”

On February 1, 2013, the remaining Albuquerque defendants (the city, airport, and individual police officers) filed their own motion to dismiss the complaints against them.  That motion is now pending.

Feb 01 2013

4th Circuit say 1st Amendment still applies inside TSA checkpoint

Ruling last week in a case brought by a man who was falsely arrested for displaying the text of the 4th Amendment to the Constitution written on his chest during a “secondary inspection” by the TSA at the  Richmond, VA, airport (RIC), the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected an appeal seeking the dismissal of a Federal civil complaint against TSA, DHS, and airport officials, police, and checkpoint staff.

The ruling means that the claims for damages by U. of Cincinnati architecture student Aaron Tobey (Tobey v. Jones et al., originally filed as Tobey v. Napolitano et al.) will go back to the District Court to proceed toward a trial. (Mr. Tobey is represented by attorneys from the Rutherford Institute.)

Even the dissent from the 2-1 decision (containing such gems as, “[I]t is sometimes necessary to make small sacrifices to achieve greater gains or, as in this case, to avoid catastrophic loss”, a bizarre statement given the lack of any allegation that Mr. Tobey, any of his actions, or the words written on his chest posed any but a political “threat”) admitted that, “TSA screening agents are not natural objects of affection…. TSA agents… can and do make mistakes, and there is always the chance that imbuing subordinate officials with a bit of authority can make them tyrants in their spheres.”

In rejecting the TSA and police appeal, and allowing Mr. Tobey’s case to go forward, the majority of the Circuit Court panel made several key rulings upholding travelers’ 1st Amendment rights and continuing and extending a line of decisions upholding personal liability on the part of individuals responsible for illegal actions at checkpoints: Read More