The No-Fly List: Who is Really Barred from Commercial Air Travel?

United States (Sputnik) – In a move that surprised Democrats and Republicans alike, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump tweeted Wednesday, “I will be meeting with the NRA, who has endorsed me, about not allowing people on the terrorist watch list, or the no-fly list, to buy guns.”

Trump has been one of the main opponents of stronger gun control laws throughout his campaign, and his tweet has rekindled discussions around the dubious and often arbitrary terror watchlist and the secretive no-fly list.

Federal guidelines for watchlisting allow the government to quietly place people on watch lists without “concrete facts,” “irrefutable evidence,” or demonstrable ties to terror groups.

In 2014, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) represented 13 Americans that had been on a no-fly list for years, based on evidence and a set of standards that were secret.

The ACLU said, in a statement, that, “By totally banning listed individuals from flights to, from, or within the United States, the No Fly List can separate people from their families, prevent them from getting or keeping jobs, and interfere with their religious obligations, to say nothing of stigmatizing them as suspected terrorists. Like the court in our case, several federal courts have acknowledged in recent months that placement on the No Fly List can be devastating.” Even children have found themselves placed on the list.

A federal court in Oregon ruled that the “government’s system for challenging inclusion on the No Fly List” was unconstitutional.

Everyday Americans aren’t the only ones who have found themselves on the wrong side of the War on Terror. If you are engaged in activism, including fighting racist governments, having leftist politics, as well as the ever-present threat of clerical error, you could arbitrarily be entered on these lists.

Nelson Mandela was loved and respected worldwide for his efforts against the apartheid regime of South Africa, but his involvement with the African National Congress earned him a spot on South Africa’s no-fly list, a move that US officials quickly adopted.

Image Source: Elliott Brown, Flickr, Creative Commons Porter's Lodge - Portsmouth Historic Dockyard - Counter Terrorism Response Level: Heightened

Image Source: Elliott Brown, Flickr, Creative Commons

The Washington Post reported in 2013 that, “Nelson Mandela is being remembered across the world (and political spectrum) for his heroic, life-long battle against apartheid and injustice in South Africa. But with all the accolades being thrown around, it’s easy to forget that the US, in particular, hasn’t always had such a friendly relationship with Mandela — and that in fact, as late as 2008, the Nobel Prize winner and former president was still on the US terrorism watch list.”

It’s no surprise the Bolivian President Evo Morales is on the no-fly list, after making comments like, “The capitalist system that Obama represents is not a policy that embodies the people of the United States, but a policy of the transnational corporations, especially of those that commercialize weapons and push for an arms race.”

The liberal Massachusetts senator Ted Kennedy, who died in 2009, told the Senate in 2004 that he, “Tried to get on a plane back to Washington,” and was told, “‘You can’t get on the plane.’ I went up to the desk and said, ‘I’ve been getting on this plane, you know, for 42 years. Why can’t I get on the plane?'”  Kennedy had been refused entry because his name resembled a terrorist’s alias.

The first known successful challenge to placement on the list came from a Stanford University Doctoral student named Rahinah Ibrahim. A federal judge ruled in 2014 that the Department of Homeland Security made a “mistake” by placing her on the no fly list, and concluded that the government “must give her an opportunity to apply for reentry to the United States.” The ruling came 9 years after Ibrahim first learned she was on the list.


This report prepared by Sputnik News.