December 2, 2013
SAN FRANCISCO — An eight-year legal odyssey by a Malaysian university professor to clear her name from the U.S. government’s no-fly list went to trial on Monday in federal court in San Francisco.
Rahinah Ibrahim claims she was mistakenly placed on the list because of her national origin and Muslim faith. She has fought in court since her arrest at San Francisco International Airport in January 2005 to clear her name.
Several similar lawsuits are pending across the nation, but Ibrahim’s legal challenge appears to be the first to go to trial.
Unlike a typical U.S. trial, where details important and mundane are disclosed in the name of justice, Ibrahim’s legal challenge has run head-on into the U.S. government’s state secret privilege that allows it to decline to disclose vital evidence if prosecutors can show a threat to national security.
Ibrahim’s lawyer is barred by court orders and national security provisions from delving too deeply into the inner-workings of the government administration of its suspected lists of terrorists.
Ibrahim, 48, lives in Malaysia with her husband and four children and is dean of the architecture and engineering school at the University of Malaysia.
Ibrahim said her trouble with the government began on Dec. 23, 2004, when two FBI agents showed up at her home near Stanford University, where she was pursuing a doctoral degree in architecture. She said the agents told her Malaysia was blacklisted by the U.S. government and they asked her if she had heard of the Malaysia-based terror organization Jemaah Islamiyah.
Ibrahim said she replied that she knew of the group only through news accounts. She said she was also asked about her involvement with the Muslim community in the San Francisco Bay Area and told the agents where she and her family worshipped.
Federal prosecutor Lily Farel told the judge the government could not respond to any of Ibrahim’s claims because of national security interests.
The U.S. government has refused to disclose how many people are on its no-fly list. The list is drawn from the U.S. National Counter-Terrorism Center list of suspected terrorists that authorities said contained 875,000 names as of May.