Monday, June 15, 2015

No Fly list sputters along


For awhile, because we'd been told we were on it, I wrote a lot about the U.S. government's No Fly list -- and the various other watch lists that popped up after 9/11. Last year I wrote up a good book on the history of terrorist watch lists. It seems governments instinctively restrict travel when they can get away with it.

These days, I fly unimpeded.

But lots of people -- mostly Muslim people it seems -- remain stuck in No Fly hell, not entirely predictably or rationally.

The latest case I've run across is that of Mourad Benchellali. Benchellali was released from Guantanamo in 2004. A French citizen, he was sold to the U.S. by Pakistanis after he escaped Afghanistan in the wake of the U.S. invasion in 2001. By his own account, as related by the British human rights activist Andy Worthington, he was a dumb 19 year who blundered into a mess.

His father was a radical imam who had tried (and failed) to fight in Bosnia, his brother Menad had tried (and failed) to fight in Chechnya, and his brother, his father and even his mother had all spent time in French prisons, but he insisted that he went to Afghanistan for “an adventure” and as a way of enhancing his status, hoping that he would be “viewed differently” in his neighbourhood, and that his reputation might “match” that of his brother. He admitted that his sense of adventure was “misguided and mistimed,” and blamed his brother for encouraging him to go, and for arranging for him to attend a training camp. “For two months, I was there,” he wrote after his release, “trapped in the middle of the desert by fear and my own stupidity.”

The U.S released him to his home country in 2004, where he was tried, convicted of associating with terrorists, and given credit for time served in Guantanamo. A complex appeal process actually got the charges dropped, and re-raised, and dropped again. In 2008 Worthington reports that he explained further in an interview to McClatchy Newspapers:

It was June 2001, and I thought I’d take a vacation, be back in time for classes in September. Later, the papers would say I was a desperate outsider [in France], trapped looking in on an uncaring nation. But that’s not true. I was happy. I was getting an education. I had a job. I had a fiancee. I just thought I wanted a bit of adventure.

So what has he been doing since he returned to France beside writing a book alleging he was tortured by the U.S. in Kandahar and Guantanamo? He's been traveling about, using his own experience as an example to discourage young people tempted by the Islamic State's recruitment pitches. He's a counter-jihadi recruiter! He has flown in Europe with no trouble.

But when invited to speak at a conference on peace and radicalization in Montreal, he was prevented from attending by the U.S. No Fly list.

No, he wasn't coming to this country. But the U.S. makes any airline passing through U.S. airspace submit a passenger list. He was refused boarding in Lyon. At least he was told the U.S. list prevented him from keeping his appointment; too often people are just kept in the dark about what prevents them from flying.

I can't help wondering -- is Benchellali's continued inclusion on the list inefficiency on the part of list keepers who never remove anyone? Or do they really think this speaker against terrorist recruitment is a danger? Or is it because his story puts the U.S. in a bad light? We are not allowed to know, of course. National security theater in action ...

1 comment:

Hattie said...

Could it be that they don't know what they are doing?
Thank you for fighting this thing out when you did. It's probably helped us not to be bothered on our travels.

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