Jan 31 2014

The price of justice: 9 years, $3.9 million, and counting

On January 2, 2005, Dr. Rahinah Ibrahim found out she was on the US government’s no-fly list when she was denied boarding, arrested, handcuffed, and locked in a cell for two hours when she tried to check in for a flight from San Francisco to Hawaii.

Just over nine years later, on January 14, 2014, a Federal judge entered judgment in Dr. Ibrahim’s favor following the trial in her lawsuit challenging her placement on the no-fly list, her mistreatment by Federal and San Francisco government employees and contractors, and the denial of her right to due process of law.

Dr. Ibrahim’s pro bono lawyers have now applied to Judge William Alsup for reimbursement by the government defendants of their costs: $3.6 million for 11,000 billable hours of attorneys’ and paralegals’ time, plus more than $300,000 in out-of-pocket expenses (including fees charged by the defendants to Dr. Ibrahim’s lawyers for obtaining clearances to see evidence alleged by the defendants to contain Sensitive Security Information).

The total price of justice: Just under $4 million dollars — and counting.  The government defendants have until February 13th (30 days after the entry of Judge Alsup’s judgment) to decide whether to appeal that judgment to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, where they have already lost two appeals of pre-trial rulings in Dr. Ibrahim’s lawsuit.  If the government appeals the judgment, payment of their fees and expenses (which depends on Dr. Ibrahim having “prevailed” in the litigation) will be further delayed while more costs accrue.

The brief in support of the motion for an award of attorneys’ fees and costs by Dr. Ibrahim’s attorneys chronicles a litany of bad faith and dirty tricks on the part of the defendants’ lawyers, such as continuing to withhold evidence from Dr. Ibrahim;s lawyers on the grounds that it was SSI, years after Dr. Ibrahim’s lawyers had been cleared by the defendants to receive SSI for purposes of the case.

Only a summary of Judge Alsup’s opinion has been made public. Unless otherwise ordered by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, the full opinion will be made public on April 15, 2014. In the meantime, according to the latest filing on behalf of Dr. Ibrahim, the government defendants are obstructing release of any further details:

Defendants’ overreaching behavior regarding secrecy in this matter continues to this day. The Court ordered the parties to meet and confer on release of a redacted version of the Court’s sealed opinion dated January 14, 2014. The sealed opinion would allow plaintiff and the public to understand more about what happened in the case and contains many facts for which the government asserts no privilege. Plaintiff has twice inquired of defendants regarding their proposed redactions, once on January 15, 2013, and again on January 24, 2013. Defendants have not provided their proposed redactions to plaintiff.

Jan 30 2014

9th Circuit overturns law making hotel guest registry an “open book” for police

Airlines and other common carriers aren’t the only travel companies that are sometimes required by governments to keep logs of their customers’ activities and make those records available to police.

Hotels, in particular, are often required or expected to spy on their customers for the (secret) police.

Sometimes, as in many European countries, this is mandated by national law. In the US, these requirements are more often encountered in state, county, and municipal codes.

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, after rehearing en banc, recently overturned one such local ordinance as being, on its face, a violation of the Fourth Amendment prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures.

The ruling in Patel v. City of Los Angeles is indicative of what sorts of limits courts currently are, and aren’t, willing to put on these outsourced systems of government surveillance, and who has standing to challenge these requirements.

The case concerned Section 41.49 of the Los Angeles Municipal Code, “Hotel Registers and Room Rentals”, which requires that (1) any guest arriving without a reservation or paying for a room in cash must present a government issued identification document, (2) information about each guest including the details of the guest’s ID document and the license number of any vehicle parked on hotel premises by the guest must be recorded by the hotel in a written log book, card file, or electronic database, and (3) this guest register must be kept on the hotel premises, at or near the guest reception or check-in area, and “made available to any officer of the Los Angeles Police Department for inspection” at any time.

It’s only that last detail of the law — the requirement that the guest register be “made available” to any police officer without warrant, without the consent of the hotelier or the guest, without any requirement for suspicion or probable cause, and without any possibility of judicial review of police demands for the guest register — that was overturned by the 9th Circuit.  The ID requirement in the L.A. ordinance was not challenged in this case.

The en banc majority in Patel v. City of Los Angeles starts by taking for granted that information provided by a guest in order to satisfy government conditions on the rental of a place to sleep is being provided “voluntarily”:

To be sure, the guests lack any privacy interest of their own in the hotel’s records. United States v. Cormier, 220 F.3d 1103, 1108 (9th Cir. 2000); see United States v. Miller, 425 U.S. 435, 440 (1976). But that is because the records belong to the hotel, not the guest, and the records contain information that the guests have voluntarily disclosed to the hotel.

Whatever validity this doctrine might have with respect to information provided “voluntarily” to a third party, a disclosure is scarcely “voluntary” when, as in this case, (a) it is required by law as a condition of availing oneself of the services of a place of public accommodation, and (b) the alternative to disclosure is sleeping in the street or on the sidewalk.  (Under another provision of the same LA Municipal Code, it’s illegal to sit, lie, or sleep in the street or on the sidewalk In the City of Angels. But as part of a settlement following an earlier, now voided, ruling by the 9th Circuit, the LAPD has agreed not to enforce that provision of the law.)

People with no other place to sleep have a “choice” of whether to rent a room or walk the streets all night the same way people required to show government-issued ID in order to fly from Hawaii to the US mainland have a “choice” of whether to fly or walk on water.

But the 9th Circuit was able to find the law in violation of the 4th Amendment, despite this fictive “voluntariness”, because the lawsuit was brought by hotel owners, not hotel guests.  It’s the hoteliers’ rights that the court found were violated by (involuntary) warrantless, suspicionless, extrajudicial police inspection of their business records about their guests.

We salute Naranjibhai Patel, Ramilaben Patel, and the Los Angeles Lodging Association for using their legal standing to challenge this law and insist that the police go to a judge and come back with a warrant.

Most travel companies are only too happy to collaborate with government agencies in spying on their customers. They’d prefer that governments pay them for their work as informers and data collectors, of course. But even without cash compensation, they benefit from being able to blame the government for intrusive demands for credentials and personal information, while getting a free ride to monetize this government-coerced informational windfall for their own marketing and other purposes.

We can find no record of any other case in which a travel company has challenged government demands for information about travelers. Nor have we found any travel company that makes public what government requests or demands it has received for data about its customers, how it has responded to those requests or demands, or how much information it has handed over.  (Google publishes a “transparency report” for its Web services, but makes no mention of the exchanges of data between Google’s ITA Software airline reservations and PNR-hosting component and government agencies in the US or abroad.)

Police have plenty of ways to make life hard for the proprietors of mom-and-pop motels on skid row.  If the plaintiffs in Patel v. City of L.A. could say “No” to big-city police demands for information about their customers and guests, and prevail in court, so could major hotel chains and other large travel companies. Travelers should demand that they do so.

Jan 28 2014

Does a US citizen need the government’s permission to return to the US?

Do you think that if you are a U.S. citizen you have a right to return to your country, and don’t need “authorization” from the US government?

Article 12, section 4 of the ICCPR (a treaty ratified by and binding on the US) provides that “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country.” And the right of US citizens to enter the US has long been recognized as one of the most fundamental aspects of the Constitutional right to travel.

But it appears that’s not what the US government thinks:

[Click image for larger version.]

This bizarre “yes-fly” document, first made public today and first published here, was provided to lawyers for Dr. Rahinah Ibrahim on the fourth day of the week-long trial last month of Dr. Ibrahim’s lawsuit challenging her placement on the US government’s “no-fly” list.

The day before the trial began, Dr. Ibrahim’s US-born US-citizen daughter, Ms. Raihan Mustafa Kamal, was denied boarding on the first of a set of connecting flights she had booked from Malaysia to to San Francisco to attend and testify at her mother’s trial.

Lawyers for the government defendants, including US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), claimed that they had “confirmed that the defendants did nothing to deny plaintiff’s daughter boarding…. she just simply missed her flight. She has been re-booked on a flight tomorrow. She should arrive tomorrow.”

As it turned out, none of those claims were true. Ms. Mustafa Kamal hadn’t “missed” her flight. She showed up on time, but , but was denied boarding as a result of an email message from CBP to the airline. She wasn’t booked on any other flight, and she never made it to her mother’s trial.

At a hearing held the afternoon after the rest of the trial had concluded, Dr. Ibrahim’s lawyers presented a sworn declaration from Ms. Mustafa Mamal including a copy provided to her by Malaysia Airlines of the email message from CBP that led to her being denied boarding.

In response to Judge Alsup’s demands (“I want a witness from Homeland Security who can testify to what has happened. You find a witness and get them here…. I want to know whether the government did something to obstruct a witness”), the defendants brought the director of the CBP’s National Targeting Center, Ms. Maureen Dugan, to San Francisco to testify and face cross-examination about what had happened to Ms. Mustafa Kamal. At the defendants’ insistence, however, the courtroom was cleared of spectators for all of Ms. Dugan’s testimony and the remainder of that hearing.

The defendants also filed a declaration from Ms. Dugan. That declaration was filed “under seal”, but after his verdict Judge Alsup reiterated his order that a  summary or redacted version of each sealed document, specifically including Ms. Dugan’s declaration, be made public.

Today the government defendants filed a redacted version pf Ms. Dugan’s declaration about what happened to Ms. Mustafa Kamal, including the “AUTHORIZATION TO TRANSPORT UNITED STATES CITIZEN TO THE UNITED STATES” reproduced above.

So now, as a result of this case and specifically as a result of CBP’s misconduct with respect to Ms. Mustafa Kamal, we have seen for the first time both a no-fly message and a yes-fly message.

What can we learn from these strange goings-on and communications?

The US government seems to think that even US citizens need the government’s permission to travel to the US. The CBP didn’t issue a reminder to airlines or other common carriers of their general obligation to transport all qualified would-be passengers, or sanction the airline for denying boarding to Ms. Mustafa Kamal despite her undisputed US birth and US citizenship.

Rather, the CBP issued an individualized, time-limited authorization to airlines to transport Ms. Mustafa Kamal to the US. Such affirmative, individualized “authorization” would make no sense unless the default, even for a US citizen, is, “NO.”

This is a blatant violation of US citizens’ Constitutional rights, and of US obligations as a party to the ICCPR.

(A somewhat similar “Transportation [Authorization] Letter” is discussed on p. 46 of the CBP  Carrier Information Guide for airlines. But the example shown in the Carrier Information Guide is for a non-US citizen whose “Green Card” has been lost, stolen, or damaged while they are abroad, and who needs temporary evidence of permanent US residency to be able to return to the US to get her Green Card replaced.  A Green Card — US permanent residency document — can’t be replaced outside the US, but a passport can. So it’s unclear why a US citizen would need such a document in lieu of an emergency passport, or why it would be considered better evidence of US citizenship than a passport.)

But why did CBP send a “possible no-board request” with respect to Ms. Mustafa Kamal?

Was Ms. Mustafa Kamal, like her mother, “mistakenly” placed on the no-fly list? Dr. Ibrahim’s lawyer — who knows Dr. Ibrahim’s status on or off the no-fly list, but is not allowed to disclose this information to her client or to the public — stated in open court during closing arguments that Ms. Mustafa Kamal’s status on the “no-fly” list was “the same as that of her mother”.  But it seems more likely, from the rest of what has been claimed publicly, that neither of them are currently on the no-fly list.  If Ms. Mustafa Kamal were, in fact, on the no-fly list, it would have been an out-and-out lie for government lawyers to tell Judge Alsup that their client CBP was not responsible for the airline’s denial of boarding to Ms. Mustafa Kamal.

A more likely explanation is that Ms. Mustafa Kamal and her mother are currently both on what was described euphemistically in pleadings made public in redacted form yesterday as a “watchlist”, but which is used in a manner that results in it functioning as a de facto blacklist with the same effect as the “no-fly” list.  The email message sent to the airline didn’t say anything explicit about the no-fly list, but its natural and foreseeable consequence was that Ms. Mustafa Kamal would be denied boarding — as in fact she was.

Perhaps most disturbingly, this suggests that the government could nominally comply with Judge Alsup’s order to remove Dr. Ibrahim from the “no-fly” list, but keep her on a “watchlist” that has the same effect.

Only if Dr. Ibrahim gets a US visa (which seems unlikely) and tries to travel to the US, or if she tries to fly on a US-flag carrier (such as on United Airlines from Singapore to Hong Kong or Tokyo), or if Ms. Mustafa Kamal tries again to travel to the US, are we likely to learn more about what actual US government actions and restrictions either of them is subjected to. That, and not the label placed on any list, is what matters.

Jan 27 2014

Government finally admits plaintiff was on the “no-fly” list

A month and half after the conclusion of the first trial in any case challenging the US government’s “no-fly” list, and more than a week after Judge William Alsup’s decision that the rights of the plaintiff in the case, Dr. Rahinah Ibrahim, were violated, the government has finally admitted explicitly and publicly that:

  1. Dr. Ibrahim was, in fact, on the US government’s “no-fly” list, which was shared with, among other entities, the Canadian and Australian governments. (There’s no mention of sharing of these lists with the UK or other European Union countries, perhaps because vetting against watchlists and blacklists of passengers on flights to, from, and within the EU is carried out by DHS employees posted in the EU, rather than by European governments.)
  2. After being removed from the “no-fly” blacklist or blocklist, Dr. Ibrahim was placed on a government watchlist (included in the same database with the no-fly list) with a “handling code… allowing law enforcement officers to ask the individual probing but non-alerting questions, and search[] the individual’s passport.” While the “no-fly” list has often been incorrectly and euphemistically described as a “watchlist”, the treatment of Dr. Ibrahim, and these detailed admissions in particular, makes clear that the government itself distinguishes blacklisting/blocking (travel control) and watchlisting (travel surveillance) as different, although related, functions.
  3. The watchlist entry for Dr. Ibrahim included “entry criteria codes” signifying “Corroborated identification as a group member by an informant or individual of unknown reliability” and “Frequents a documented group’s area, associates with known group members, and/or affects group dress, hand signals, tattoos, or symbols.” There’s still no public indication of the basis for these (false) conclusions. The FBI agent who “nominated” Dr. Ibrahim for inclusion on the “no-fly” list did so “mistakenly”. From the latest redacted filings and prior statements in open court, it appears that the agent thought he was filling out the form to nominate Dr. Ibrahim for mere watchlisting rather than inclusion on the “no-fly” blacklist/blocklist.
  4. In closed court, “Agent Kelley testified that until his deposition on September 12, 2013 he had never had a watchlist nomination rejected and that in answer to the question ‘you had also never heard of anyone else having a watchlist nomination rejected?’ he answered ‘no.'” This belies the government’s claims that the basis for each such “nomination” is carefully reviewed before a name is added to a blacklist or watchlist.

Of course, Dr. Ibrahim already knew she was on the “no-fly” list, since but for her listing on this US government blacklist she wouldn’t have been denied boarding on her flight and arrested at SFO in 2005. But until now, both before and throughout the trial, the government refused to confirm this fact publicly, and claimed that it could not do so (or tell Dr. Ibrahim her current status on any blacklist or watchlist) without jeopardizing national security.

These admissions came in snippets between redacted passages in government briefs belatedly filed today in response to Judge Alsup’s latest reiteration of his standing orders for filing of public summaries or redacted versions of all pleadings and declarations filed “under seal” in the case.

The briefs filed today by the government defendants were due this past Friday, but were filed today with a declaration that the government’s lawyers (despite being located in the same building as the clerk’s office, where they could have filed them over the counter) were unable to file them on Friday due to technical problems with the court’s electronic document handling system:

A public redacted version of one more document previously filed only under seal, a declaration from the Director of the CBP National Targeting Center concerning what happened to Dr. Ibrahim’s daughter, a US citizen who was denied boarding when she tried to fly to the US to attend and testify at her mother’s trial, is due to be filed by the government tomorrow. There’s still been no public explanation of what, if any, valid basis US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) could have had for telling airlines that a US citizen might not be admitted to the US.

Jan 24 2014

Defendants in “no-fly” case ignore judge’s deadline to make their arguments public

Last week Judge William Alsup ordered the parties to Dr. Rahinah Ibrahim’s lawsuit challenging her placement on the US government’s no-fly list to file redacted public versions, by noon today, of the “sealed” briefs and replies they submitted following the trial in the case last month.  These briefs included each side’s proposals of what factual and legal findings they believed the judge should make.

Shortly before noon  today, Dr. Ibrahim’s lawyers filed redacted (but nonetheless interesting) versions of their sealed post-trial briefs:

More than an hour after the deadline, nothing had been filed by the defendants, and no explanation had been given. (See the comments below and follow-up articles for updates.) It remains to be seen if the defendants are merely late, if they are ignoring Judge Alsup’s order, or if they are on their way to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to seek an emergency writ or stay pending appeal.

Additional information about why Dr. Ibrahim’s daughter Ms. Raihan binti Mustafa Kamal, a US-born citizen, was prevented from flying to the US to testify at her mother’s trial, is due to be made public next Tuesaday, Jan. 28th. Judge Alsup has ordered the government defendants to file a redacted public version of the sworn declaration submitted by Ms. Maureen Dugan, the director of the CBP National Targeting Center and the sole witness at the post-trial hearing concerning what happened to Ms. Mustafa Kamal.

Read More

Jan 22 2014

Second judge finds “no-fly” orders may violate due process and right to travel

In another victory for due process and the right to travel, Judge Anthony J. Trenga of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Alexandria, today rejected another government motion to dismiss a complaint challenging the US “no-fly” list. At least as long as Judge Alsup’s decision in Ibrahim v. DHS remains secret, today’s ruling in the case of Mohamed v. Holder contains the strongest and clearest affirmation of the right to travel in any judicial opinion in the US since 9/11, and clears the way for what would be only the second trial (despite many years of litigation) in a no-fly case.

Gulet Mohamed is a poster-child for everything that’s wrong with the system of “no-fly” orders, and one of dozens of victims of similar mistreatment and extrajudicial exile from the US. Raised in the US, and a US citizen, Mr. Mohamed was a teenager visiting family abroad in 2011 when he was placed on the US no-fly list, apparently in an effort to induce him to become an FBI informer on the Somali-American community. Unable to return home to the US, he was arrested and imprisoned in Kuwait for overstaying his visa.  While being held incommunicado and blindfolded in Kuwait, he “was repeatedly beaten and tortured by his interrogators,” one of whom spoke “perfect American English.”

Eventually — either because Mr. Mohamed’s Kuwaiti captors decided he was telling the truth when he said he knew nothing about terrorists, or because he had smuggled out a message to his family in the US, who had gotten him a lawyer — they let him buy a plane ticket home, and tried to deport him. But the airline wouldn’t let him on the plane to the US, saying that they were acting on orders from the US government.

Mr. Mohamed was allowed to come home only after his lawyer in the US, Gadeir Abbas of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), filed a federal lawsuit on his behalf.

Once Mr. Mohamed was home, of course, the US government tried to argue that the case was “moot”, notwithstanding the fact that Mr. Mohamed couldn’t tell whether he would ever again be allowed to fly.

After three years of technical arguments about standing, jurisdictions, and so forth were rejected by the trial judge and finally last year by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, the government made a new round of objections as to whether Mr. Mohamed’s compliant, even if true, stated a claim that would entitle him to any judicial relief.

That motion by the government was denied today.  While Judge Trenga didn’t rule on the truth of the allegations in Mr. Mohamed’s complaint, the judge found that, if true, these allegations could provide a sufficient basis for findings of violations of Mr. Mohamed’s Constitutional rights.

Today’s ruling is worth reading in its entirety. Here are some excerpts:

The impact on a citizen who cannot use a commercial aircraft is profound. He is restricted in his practical ability to travel substantial distances within a short period of time, and the inability to fly to a significant extent defines the geographical area in which he may live his life. As a practical matter, an affected person is restricted in his ability to visit family and friends located in relatively distant areas of the country or abroad, which through flight can be reached within a matter of hours but would otherwise take days, if not weeks, to access. See Latifv. Holder, No. 3:10-cv-750,2013 WL 4592515, at ¶8 (D. Or. Aug. 28, 2013) (noting that flight is often the only feasible form of international travel); Ibrahim v. Dep ‘t of Homeland Sec, No. C 06-00545 WHA, 2012 WL 6652362, at ¶7 (N.D. Cal. Dec. 20, 2012) (same). An inability to travel by air also restricts one’s ability to associate more generally, and effectively limits educational, employment and professional opportunities. It is difficult to think of many job categories of any substance where an inability to fly would not affect the prospects for employment or advancement; one need only reflect on how an employer would view the desirability of an employee who could not travel by air. An inability to fly likewise affects the possibility of recreational and religious travel, given the time periods usually available to people, particularly those who are employed.

Inclusion on the No Fly List also labels an American citizen a disloyal American who is capable of, and disposed toward committing, war crimes, and one can easily imagine the broad range of consequences that might be visited upon such a person if that stigmatizing designation were known by the general public. In effect, placement on the No Fly List is life defining and life restricting across a broad range of constitutionally protected activities and aspirations; and a No Fly List designation transforms a person into a second class citizen, or worse. The issue, then, is whether and under what circumstances the government should have the ability to impose such a disability on an American citizen, who should make any such decision, according to what process, and by what standard of proof.

After a review of the legal history of the right to travel and its importance, Judge Trenga turns to the Constitutional aspects of the specific right to travel by air and the functioning of the “no-fly” list:

[W]hen the basic principles discussed in Kent and Aptheker are applied to the No Fly List, substantial constitutional issues are immediately apparent.

First, the No Fly List, once distributed, clearly infringes upon a citizen’s right to travel; and the Court cannot conclude based on the present record that there are no means less restrictive than an unqualified flight ban to adequately assure flight security, such as comprehensive pre-flight screening and searches. Second, the current record is inadequate to explain why judicial involvement before a person is placed on the No Fly List is either unnecessary or impractical, other than perhaps within the context of an emergency based on a specific, imminent threat that requires immediate action. Nor does the record conclusively establish that there cannot be any opportunity, either before or after an American citizen is placed on the No Fly List, to know of or challenge any of the information used to list him, even where such information could be summarized in a way that does not compromise sources or methods.

We’ve always believed that no-fly orders should come from the courts, through existing routine legal procedures (which the DHS has never attempted to use) for the issuance of temporary restraining orders or permanent injunctions. So far as we know, however, this is the first time any judge has suggested the possibility of judicial no-fly orders rather than judicial review of extrajudicial administrative no-fly orders. And this also the first time, so far as we know, that any judge has questioned not just how a no-fly list should work, but whether such a total ban on travel (by people who the police do not have grounds to arrest) is necessary at all.

The ruling continues: Read More

Jan 22 2014

Judge orders more disclosure about what happened to daughter of plaintiff in “no-fly” trial

One of the most disturbing aspects of the trial last month in Dr. Rahinah Ibrahim’s lawsuit challenging her placement on the US government’s “no-fly” list was what happened to Dr. Ibrahim’s daughter, Ms. Raihan binti Mustafa Kamal.

Ms. Mustafa Kamal, a lawyer and member of the Malaysian bar, was born in the US and is a US citizen.  She accompanied her mother to the airport in Kuala Lumpur in March 2005 when, after having been allowed to travel from the US to Malaysia (and after being assured that the “mistake” that led to her arrest when she tried to leave San Francisco had been corrected), Dr. Ibrahim was prevented from board a flight back to the US.

The government defendants had been notified that Ms. Mustafa Kamal might testify at her mother’s trial, as an eyewitness to these events.  But the day before the trial, when Ms. Mustafa Kamal tried to board a flight in K.L. that would connect her to San Francisco, she was denied boarding as a result of a message sent to the airline by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), one of the defendants in the lawsuit. Ms. Mustafa Kamal never made it to the US for her mother’s trial.

The afternoon following the conclusion of the trial, Judge William Alsup held a hearing behind closed doors at which the government defendants presented a written declaration and in-person testimony about what happened to Ms. Mustafa Kamal from Maureen Dugan, Director of the CBP’s “National Targeting Center” in Reston, Virginia.  That declaration and that testimony are likely to have provided the most detailed explanation yet provided in any US legal proceeding as to the mechanisms by which an entry on a “watchlist” is translated into messages to, and action by, an airline that denies boarding to an individual.

After this hearing, Judge Alsup offered Dr. Ibrahim opportunities to request that he re-open the case the presentation of evidence to allow Ms. Mustafa Kamal time to make another attempt to travel to the US to testify. But Dr. Ibrahim’s lawyers declined that offer:

At the closed hearing on Friday, December 6, 2013, regarding the travel difficulties of plaintiff’s daughter, Raihan Mustafa Kamal, the Court allowed plaintiff the opportunity to consider whether to re-open evidence for Ms. Mustafa Kamal to testify. Because of concerns about the safety and liberty of Ms. Mustafa Kamal were she to attempt to travel to the United States, plaintiff elects to proceed on the evidence presented at the trial.

As we noted at the time, the most obvious potential concern for Ms. Mustafa Kamal is that she might be allowed to fly to the US, but then not allowed to return to Malaysia, where she lives and works.

The transcript of the December 6, 2013 hearing, along with the rest of the transcripts of closed portions of the trial, remains sealed, at least for now, pending the possibility of government appeals. In addition, despite Judge Alsup’s orders that any sealed written filings in the case musty be accompanied by versions redacted for publication or public summaries, no public summary or redacted version of Ms. Dugan’s declaration has been filed.

Judge Alsup has now ordered the government defendants to file a public version of Ms. Dugan’s declaration about what happened to Ms. Mustafa Kamal by January 28, 2013.  We expect that the government’s redactions will, as usual, be excessive and unjustified. But at a minimum, this will compel the government to further refine exactly what about this case it thinks need to be kept secret from the public, and why.

Jan 16 2014

Judge orders parties to “no-fly” lawsuit to make their arguments public

[Judge Willam Alsup. Courtroom sketch during the trial in Ibrahim v. DHS by Jackson West, JacksonWest.com. Some rights reserved, CC BY 3.0 US, creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us”]

Several commentators (TechDirt, Lowering The Bar, Discourse.net, FireDiogLake) have noted how unusual it is that we know that Judge William Alsup has ruled in favor of Dr. Rahinah Ibrahim in her lawsuit challenging her placement on the “no-fly” list and treatment when she tried to fly, but we don’t yet know what Judge Alsup actually ruled.

“I’ve never seen one of those before,” observed law professor Michael Froomkin of Judge Alsup’s Public Notice and Summary of Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law after Bench Trial. Judge Alsup has sealed his own verdict and rulings until April 15, 2014, “so that our court of appeals can rule on the government’s desire to maintain its secrecy.”

But that’s not all: We don’t even know what the parties (Dr. Ibrahim and the government defendants) asked Judge Alsup to find, or why.  Despite repeated orders from the judge that any sealed filings must be accompanied by public summaries or redacted versions, no public versions of either side’s closing arguments and proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law have been made public.

The day after issuing his sealed (for now) verdict and public summary, Judge Alsup followed up with an order to both parties to file public versions (summaries or redacted versions) of their post-trial briefs and  replies by next Friday, January 24, 2014.

This could be seen as no more than judicial housekeeping, in an effort to make sure that the record is complete in the likely event that the government appeals all or part of Judge Alsup’s order (including the “remedies” it orders), and/or Judge Alsup’s failure to seal his order permanently (despite “the government’s desire to maintain its secrecy”), to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

But we also read Judge Alsup’s post-judgment order as a further indication of his dissatisfaction with having been asked by the government to keep his own decision secret. At a minimum, even read acted versions or summaries of the government’s briefs will, presumably, make explicit the government’s demand that the outcome of the trial — which included secret evidence, secret testimony, and secret arguments, all heard in a courtroom from which the public and the press were frequently excluded — itself be kept secret.

We’ll have more to say once we see the public versions of the secret pleadings at the end of next week.

Jan 14 2014

Trial judge finds for plaintiff Dr. Ibrahim in no-fly case

Following a week-long trial in Federal court in San Francisco last month, Judge William Alsup found today that Dr. Rahinah Ibrahim’s due process rights were violated when she was placed on the “no-fly” list.  “Judgment is HEREBY ENTERED in favor of plaintiff to the extent stated in the findings of fact, conclusions of law, and order for relief.”

Only a summary of Judge Alsup’s ruling has been made public. The government wanted the entirety of the verdict (against the government) to be kept secret: “In the Court’s view, all of the separate order should be made public, but it will remain under seal and the parties (and counsel) shall maintain its secrecy until APRIL 15, 2014, so that our court of appeals can rule on the government’s desire to maintain its secrecy.”

Judge Alsup ordered the government to correct Dr. Ibrahim’s status on the no-fly list (and certify under oath that it has done so), and disclose to Dr. Ibrahim whether she is or is not now on the list:

This much, however, can be and will be revealed publicly now by way of summary. All of the government’s standing arguments are overruled…. Our court of appeals … held that plaintiff, even though an alien living overseas, did have standing. The government did not seek higher review of this ruling.

Turning to the merits, some but not all of the relief sought by plaintiff has been granted. In order for the district court to grant relief on a claim that a plaintiff has been wrongly listed in a government terrorist watchlist, that listing must first result in concrete, reviewable adverse government action against the plaintiff, such as refusal of permission to board a plane. This means that a judicial remedy must, by necessity, be a post-deprivation remedy. Once a plaintiff shows concrete, reviewable adverse government action has occurred, and, as here, shows that the action resulted from an error by the government, then the plaintiff is entitled by due process to a post-deprivation remedy that requires the government to cleanse and/or correct its lists and records of the mistaken information and to certify under oath that such correction(s) have been made. The government’s administrative remedies fall short of such relief and do not supply sufficient due process. In light of the confusion caused by the government’s mistake, such cleansing-certification relief is ordered in this case. Also, the government is ordered to disclose to plaintiff her current status on (or off) the no-fly list (without prejudice to future adjustments based on new information). In this connection, the government concedes that plaintiff is not a threat to our national security.

Although a district court cannot review the decision of a consular officer in denying a visa to a nonimmigrant alien, when a nonimmigrant alien with standing to assert constitutional rights has been denied a visa under Section 212(a)(3)(B) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(3)(B), the consular officer must specify which of the nine subsections was the basis of the denial. Din v. Kerry, 718 F.3d 856, 862 (9th Cir. 2013). This relief is ordered here.

If, moreover, a consular officer advises a nonimmigrant alien that she is not eligible to seek a discretionary waiver of inadmissibility when, under the law, she is eligible to at least apply for a waiver, that erroneous advisement may be reviewed by a district court to the limited extent of requiring the government to inform the nonimmigrant alien that she is eligible to at least apply for a discretionary waiver. Such relief is ordered here. The subsequent grant or denial of any such application, however, would not be reviewable….


Dated: January 14, 2014.


“Justice has finally been done for an innocent woman who was wrongly ensnared in the government’s flawed watch listing system,” said Elizabeth Pipkin, lead trial counsel for Dr. Ibrahim along with Christine Peek, Ruby Kazi, and Jennifer Murakami.

We fear that today’s ruling is, unfortunately, unlikely to be “final” in light of inevitable appeals by the government. But as the first substantive ruling on the government’s system of secret administrative “no-fly” orders, it is a major step toward bringing the DHS and its control of travel within the rule of law.