15 March 2014, 13:04

875,000 in US terrorist watch list system

875,000 in US terrorist watch list system

The US had 875,000 Americans and foreigners as of December 2012 languishing in the US terrorist watch list system, considered "known or suspected terrorists" in keeping with secret rules and evidence. 

Those secretly blacklisted have no real path to challenge their status, which indefinitely restricts them from travel or just getting a job, according to a new report by the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU.

The US terrorist watch list system, shared with state and local law enforcement agencies, can stifle overseas travel, the ability to obtain a US visa or entry into the US, and can lead to invasive screenings or detentions by authorities at airports and the like. That's not to mention the social pressure of being considered a terror suspect by the US, which can lead to a host of problems ranging from separation from family to ostracization from a community or place of employment, for example.

Despite the endless effects that can stem from being placed in the watch list system, the US has not taken proper care to avoid the basic fairness principle of 'innocent until proven guilty', according to the ACLU report.

"It has placed individuals on watch lists, and left them there for years, as a result of blatant errors," the ACLU says of the bureaucratic punitiveness of the system. "And it has refused to disclose the standards by which it places individuals on other watch lists, such as the No Fly List."

There is no clear way to "redress" the US government for this process should one challenge their inclusion in the watch list system – that is, if they can ever obtain proof that they're even included in this Kafkaesque system.

"Even after people know the government has placed them on a watch list—including after they are publicly denied boarding on a plane, or subjected to additional and invasive screening at the airport, - the government's official policy is to refuse to confirm or deny watch list status," the ACLU says.

Rahinah Ibrahim, a Stanford Ph.D. student and Malaysian citizen, is a case in point. Nine years ago, Ibrahim tried to board a flight from San Francisco, California, to Hawaii with her teenage daughter when she was detained by authorities, interrogated for hours, and told she appeared on a no-fly list. Ultimately she was cleared for air travel, but two months later was instructed that her visa had been revoked due to a US terrorism law. She has spent much of the last nine years in Malaysia, communicating with colleagues at Stanford and across the US using the phone and internet.

In December, US District Judge William Alsup wrote that Ibrahim is "entitled by due process to a ... remedy that requires the government to cleanse and/or correct its lists and records of the mistaken information," and agreed that the rules surrounding adding and maintaining names on federal watch lists include serious hurdles that prevent innocent people from learning about their status. Both the judge and the government admitted at trial that Ibrahim did not and does not pose a threat to America.

In February, Alsup followed up with a heavily-redacted 38-page order that said Ibrahim's woes may never have occurred had an FBI agent not checked the wrong box while filling out paperwork almost a decade ago.

The ACLU suggests the US government "reform" this vast, unaccountable system by narrowing the criteria for landing in the watch list system; applying a more rigorous, fair review standard for contesting suspect status; and limiting how far-reaching the effects are for those ultimately not proven to have committed any crime.

Voice of Russia, RT, BaltimoreJewishLife.com

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