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.
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:
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 ...