Dec 02 2013

Witness in “no-fly” trial finds she’s on “no-fly” list too

The Federal civil rights trial in Ibrahim v. DHS — the first lawsuit seeking judicial review of a government “no-fly” order to make it to trial — began this morning in San Francisco with a surprise:

When the case was called at 7:30 a.m., Elizabeth Pipkin and Christine Peek, pro bono lawyers for the plaintiff Dr. Rahinah Ibrahim, began by informing U.S. District Judge William Alsup that Dr. Ibrahim’s oldest daughter Raihan Mustafa Kamal was denied boarding in Kuala Lumpur yesterday when she tried to board a flight to San Francisco to observe and testify at the trial in her mother’s lawsuit.

Ms. Mustafa Kamal, an attorney licensed to practice law in Malaysia, was born in the U.S. and is a U.S. citizen. Ms. Mustafa Kamal was with her mother when Dr. Ibrahim was denied boarding on a flight from K.L. to San Francisco in 2005 (after having been told that her name had been removed from the “no-fly” list) under what now seem eerily similar circumstances. The DHS had been given notice that Ms. Mustafa Kamal would testify at the trial as an eyewitness to those events she witnessed in 2005.

According to Ms. Pipkin, airline employees who refused to check Ms. Kamal in for flights to the U.S. told her that they were acting on orders from the DHS.  Airline staff in K.L. gave Ms. Mustafa Kamal a telephone number in Miami to call for further information, saying it was the number of an office of the CBP (the Customs and Border Protection division of DHS).

When Ms. Pipkin learned of this from Ms. Mustafa Kamal on Sunday night at 8 p.m. San Francisco time, she called the number Ms. Mustafa Kamal has been given. It was apparently a CBP office, but the person who answered the phone refused to give his name and refused to provide any information about what had happened to Ms. Mustafa Kamal. When Ms. Pipkin asked to speak with his supervisor, she was given another phone number that went to voicemail. She left a message, but nobody called back.

On hearing this account, Judge Alsup asked the lawyers representing the DHS and the other Federal agency and official defendants (led by Lily Farel of the Department of Justice) to respond.

After consulting with DHS agency counsel, Ms. Farel claimed that this was the first that any of the government’s lawyers in the case had heard about Ms. Mustafa Kamal’s having been prevented (by their client the DHS) from traveling to the U.S. to attend and testify at her mother’s trial.

Judge Alsup ordered the government defendants’ lawyers to investigate and report back. “You’ve got ten lawyers over there on your side of the courtroom. You can send one of them out in the hall to make a phone call and find out what’s going on.”

At the end of the first day’s session of the trial (more on that below), the governments’ lawyers told Judge Alsup that they had made inquiries and had been told that “the plaintiff’s daughter just missed her flight” and was rebooked on a flight tomorrow (Tuesday) afternoon.

Needless to say, that story strains credulity. If Ms. Mustafa Kamal had merely missed her flight, why would she have been given a CBP phone number in Miami to call for information about what had happened?  The governments’ lawyers insisted that, “That’s what we have been told”, but Judge Alsup wasn’t satisfied.

“We may have to have a separate evidentiary hearing about this,” Judge Alsup said, and ordered the defendants to provide further information tomorrow (Tuesday).  “I want to know whether the government did something to obstruct a witness, a U.S. citizen.”

Read More