Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Canadians snared by no fly list

Last September, this blog reported on a Canadian citizen who had been stranded in Khartoum, Sudan and subjected to torture by local authorities, then been prevented from flying home by a U.S.-instigated placement on a no fly list.

More details have dribbled out in Canada where journalists tend to be energetic about exposing government abuses. According to the Toronto Globe and Mail,

Although ministers told the House of Commons last spring that Abousfian Abdelrazik, a Canadian citizen, had received full consular assistance, the documents show a senior Foreign Affairs official explicitly ordered Canadian diplomats in Khartoum to stay away from the interrogation by U.S. agents.

"Mission staff should not accompany Abdelrazik to his interview with the FBI," ordered Sean Robertson in a secret cable to the Canadian embassy in Khartoum on April 3, 2007. ... When faced with interrogation by Sudanese and FBI agents, Mr. Abdelrazik feared he would again be imprisoned and tortured in Sudan's notorious jails and pleaded for a Canadian diplomat to accompany him to the interrogation. Although ordered to stay away, they did offer to telephone him afterward. When they did, there was no answer, according to government documents in possession of The Globe and Mail.

More than a month later, the diplomats told Ottawa that the U.S. FBI agents had warned Mr. Abdelrazik he would never see Canada again unless he implicated others as al-Qaeda operatives. If he doesn't co-operate fully, "he will never return to Canada," the FBI agents told him, according to a Canadian embassy official who reported back to Ottawa after debriefing Mr. Abdelrazik... Since The Globe first published details of his years in enforced limbo last April, Mr. Abdelrazik has been allowed to live inside the Canadian embassy in Khartoum, but the government has so far failed to give him any of the assistance required to allow him to return to Canada, most recently refusing to issue him emergency travel documents when an airline was willing to flout the U.S. no-fly ban and issue him a ticket to Montreal.

The Canadian newspaper is doing its best to embarrass the Canadian government for its complicity with the U.S. spook network. There is a lively consciousness in Canada of the torture of Mahar Arar, set in motion by the U.S., and eventually indemnified by Canadians to the tune of C$10.5 million.

Another recent case turned up by Canadian papers is less frightening, but only marginally so. According to the Victoria Times Colonist (great name for a paper!):

Glenda Hutton, 66, of Courtenay has never been arrested, doesn't have a criminal record and over a long career as a school secretary never caused anyone trouble.

So it's perplexing just how her name turned up on a U.S. no-fly list, but there it is. ... She first learned something was wrong in October 2007 when she was delayed at the Air Canada check-in counter at Comox from boarding a flight to Calgary.

... a month later she was flagged when trying to board a Japan Airlines flight to Thailand. "They said they could get me out of Canada but feared for my safety once I got to Bangkok, Thailand," Hutton said. The couple decided to stay home and sort the mess out. Japan Airlines refunded their tickets. ...

Hutton was on a Canadian no-fly list but her name has been removed. She's convinced that her name remains on a U.S. list. "Air Canada told me that there was someone else in the world with my name who is a very, very bad person," Hutton said.

Hutton's case, and the Abdelrazik one, illustrate the profound danger of these enormous lists of "suspect persons" circulating around the globe. Maybe, if we're lucky, we can enforce the rules of criminal procedure in our home countries. But databases tend to be full of errors, nearly eternal and widely used. They don't catch terrorists, but they endanger more and more of us.

One would hope that that the incoming Obama administration would clear out the useless, abusive mire of "no fly list" and "watch list" regulation that is airline security theater. I know, they have to "prove" they are "tough" on security issues. But can't they replace stupid and inept with smart? Doing so would involve stepping back from making air travel a quagmire of confusion, complexity, and criminal abuse.

The TSA morass is close to pure waste at a time when the U.S. requires every dollar to rebuild our economy. Mr. Obama -- have you got the guts to zero out the TSA? Probably not, but we can at least hope for reform.

1 comment:

Kay Dennison said...

It's rimes like this when I'm no longer proud to be an American!!!!

I spend a lot of time feeling that way these days.

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