CAIRO - A US Air Force Muslim veteran has become the latest victim of the no-fly list, denying him the right to return to his homeland to see his ailing mother.
I don't understand how the government can take away my right to travel without even telling me, Saadiq Long, a 43-year-old African-American Muslim, told The Guardian on Monday, November 5.If the US government wanted me to question or arrest or prosecute me, they could have had me in a minute.
But there are no charges, no accusations, nothing.
The dilemma of Saadiq, who served for a decade in the US army, started six months ago when he purchased a KLM ticket to Oklahoma, where he grew up to see his ailing mother.
His visit was the first after the Muslim veteran spent a decade teaching English in three Arab countries; Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.
But to his surprise, he was told by a KLM representative that he was not allowed on board because his name is placed on the US no-fly list.
The Muslim veteran was never convicted or indicted in any crime.
Receiving no notice why his own government prohibited him from flying back home, Saadiq is worried about his mother's health.
My mother is much too sick to come visit me, as she has difficulty now even walking very short distances, he said.
Obviously, I can't get to Oklahoma from Qatar if I can't fly.
Trying to take a boat would take weeks away from work just for the travel alone, and it's not affordable. If I can't fly, then I can't go back home.
Established in 2003 and administrated by the FBI's Terrorist Screening Center, the no-fly list includes some 20,000 people deemed by the agency as known to have, or reasonably suspected of having, ties to terrorism.
About 500 of them are US citizens, according to an agency spokesman.
In May, fifteen American Muslims, including four military veterans, sued the federal government over being placed on a no-fly list for no apparent reason.
The veteran's case is not the first encountered by American Muslims in the post-9/11 era.
"What is happening to Saadiq happens to American Muslims with alarming regularity, Gadeir Abbas, a lawyer with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) now working on Saadiq's case, told The Guardian.
Every few weeks I hear of another Muslim citizen who cannot return to the country of which he is a citizen.
It is as if the US has created a system of secret law whereby certain behaviors - being Muslim seems to be one of them - trigger one's placement on government watch lists that separate people from their families, end careers, and poison personal relationships. All of this done without any due process.
Civil liberties groups, including American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), have been fighting against the discriminatory procedure.
"The No Fly List bars thousands of people from commercial air travel without any opportunity to learn about or refute the basis for their inclusion on the list, ACLU lawyer Nusrat Choudhury said.
The result is a vast and growing list of individuals who, on the basis of error or innuendo, have been deemed too dangerous to fly but who are too harmless to arrest. Some have been stranded abroad when they suddenly found themselves unable to board planes.
"None of these Americans have ever been told why they are on the No Fly List or given a reasonable opportunity to get off it. But, the Constitution requires the government to provide our clients a fair chance to clear their names."
Taking a last shot to visit his ailing mother, Saadiq has purchased another ticket to travel to the US on November 8 in the hope that the US government will allow him to fly.
If he isn't allowed to fly home on the 8th, we will plan on mobilizing people to contact the Special Agent in Charge of the FBI field office in Oklahoma City, said Abbas, the CAIR lawyer.The FBI controls these lists and his intervention could end Saadiq's predicament."