Saheli*: Musings and Observations
Monday, August 28, 2006
 
The Right to Travel

I don't normally reblog stuff from Sepia Mutiny, since they have a larger and more focused audience, but this is too important and too general to ignore. Siddhartha brings our attention to the news that the United States has denied re- entry to two American citizens--one naturalized and one-native born--unless they first agree to be interrogated by the FBI abroad without a lawyer and take a polygraph test. They have not been charged with any crime. From the New York Times article by Randal Archibald:

In Hong Kong, Ms. Mass said, they were told there was a problem with their passports; other family members traveled on to California, while the Ismails returned to Pakistan. There, a consular officer suggested there had been a mix-up and advised them to book a direct flight to the United States, but at the airport, they were told they were on the no-fly list, she said.

Jaber Ismail, who was born in the United States, was questioned by the F.B.I. at the American Embassy in Islamabad, but his father, a naturalized United States citizen from Pakistan, declined to participate, Ms. Mass said. Jaber Ismail has refused further interrogation without a lawyer and has declined to take a polygraph test; Ms. Mass said the men were told these conditions had to be met before the authorities would consider letting them back into the United States.

The San Francisco Chronicle's Demian Bulwa appears to have broken the story, and here is more coverage from Reuters and the Stockton Record. Ms. Mass is a lawyer with the ACLU.

As you can tell, these two American citizens are Pakistani-American. They are from Lodi, and are also related to Hamid Hayat, the 23-year old Lodi resident who was convicted of supporting terrorists earlier this year. They have apparently been in Pakistan for more than four years. It would not be surprising if the FBI had a good reason to want to question them.

But let us not forget that the FBI has a long and storied past of using its powers unjustly. Let us not forget the right to counsel in the Sixth Amendment, or that Habeas Corpus cannot be suspended for a citizen. The FBI could arrest them, handcuff them, and bring them home to be questioned in the presence of a lawyer. Instead it is treating them like foreigners and convicted criminals.

In some sense the specifics of the case are irrelevant to general discussion. If they are guilty, or dangerous, there are constitutional ways of dealing with that. What is relevant is this: two American citizens are being prevented from coming home except on condition of giving up the very rights of their citizenship. They are being deprived of liberty without trial or even accusation. There are two interpretations of this.

Either all American citizens now forfeit their rights by traveling. Or these two are not really considered American citizens.

The former is a disastrous attack on our liberty. And the latter is a disastrous attack on our citizenry. Please don't ignore it. Please support the ACLU.

 


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Saheli Datta started this when she was a journalism student at Columbia in New York. Now she lives in the Bay Area. *Old people call me R. New people, call me Saheli. Thanks! My homepage. Specifically, my links. Email me: Saheli [AT] Gmail [dot] Com

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