CAIRO - An American Muslim has been stranded in an inhuman detention center in Bangkok for ten days after being denied a flight to his homeland in Southern California, as US officials denied him an explanation for his nightmarish ordeal.
"They treat you like an animal," Rehan Motiwala, a 29-year-old medical student from Pomona, Southern California, told Los Angeles Times on Saturday, June 29.
Referring to his detention days at Bangkok airport, Motiwala said he had to sleep for 10 nights on a roach-infested mattress in a dank, windowless detention room reserved for deportees.
The American student, whose parents are of Pakistani origin, took leave from medical school last year and traveled to Pakistan to visit relatives.
Later on, he went on to Indonesia to work with the Tablighi Jamaat group, widely regarded as peaceful and apolitical.
"They were very welcoming," Motiwala said.
"We would ask people to come pray at the mosque, talk about the greatness of God, sit in gatherings and listen to prayers."
After spending six weeks with missionaries in Indonesia, Motiwala decided to return to the United States in early June, hoping to be home in time for Father's Day and to resume his studies at Texas Tech.
His dilemma started on June 13 when he tried to travel from Jakarta, Indonesia, to Los Angeles.
At the airport, an airline staff in Bangkok refused to issue him a boarding pass for his connecting flight, offering no explanation.
After dozing on benches and wandering the airport terminal for four nights, Motiwala was told that a Justice Department official had arrived from the United States to question him.
Declining to answer question without a lawyer present, US officials left him in the custody of Thai authorities.
According to the account offered by Motiwala's lawyers, US officials tried to bully him, as one told him that returning to the US was a privilege, not a right. Another sarcastically suggested traveling to Afghanistan instead.
After leaving, the legal attache told Thai authorities: "We don't care what happens. Do whatever you want to him."
As Motiwala's case seemed far from over, his ordeal underscores the mystery that continues to surround the no-fly list 12 years after its creation.
"The onus is really on the government to facilitate the return of this person," said Fatima Dadabhoy, an attorney with the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Los Angeles, which is representing Motiwala.
"Whether or not they're on the no-fly list, they can still come home."
Motiwala's travel nightmare ended Friday morning when he was finally granted permission to fly out of Bangkok.
In Los Angeles, Customs and Border Protection officers held him for questioning for over three hours, confiscating his laptop, external hard drive, flash drive, SIM card and other materials
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.
Earlier in 2011, an American Muslim family was kicked off a JetBlue flight because their 18-month child was flagged as no-fly.
In 2009, nine members of a Muslim family were removed from a domestic AirTran Airways flight to Orlando, Florida, after they chatted about their seats in the plane.