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Trial Begins in Legal Challenge To No-Fly List

In an eight-year legal odyssey to clear her name from the U.S. no-fly list, a Malaysian university professor has finally been given the opportunity to state her case in federal court in San Francisco.

Rahinah Ibrahim claims that she was mistakenly placed on the n0-fly list because of her national origin and Muslim faith. She has been fighting in court since her arrest at San Francisco international airport in January 2005 in an attempt to clear her name. There are several similar lawsuits that are pending across the nation, but Ibrahim’s challenge seems to be the first one to go to trial. Typically, U.S. trials involve important yet mundane details that are disclosed in order to truly determine guilt or innocence, but in this case, Ibrahim’s legal challenge has run head-on into the U.S. government’s state secret privilege that allows it to decline to disclose vital evidence if the prosecutors can show that the person is a threat to national security.

To make matters worse, Ibrahim’s lawyers are barred by court orders and national security provisions to prevent her attorney from digging to deeply into the cloak-and-dagger workings of the government’s administration of its suspected terrorists list. Federal prosecutor, Lily Farrel told the judge that the government couldn’t respond to any of Ibrahim’s claims due to national security interests. There was a point during the trial on Monday where the judge cleared the room of all spectators so the prosecution could present three slides of classified evidence to the judge, which had to be discussed behind closed doors. Before and after the closed session, federal prosecutors lobbed a steady stream of objections when Ibrahim’s lawyer came close to discussing her client’s current no-fly list status and details of how Ibrahim came to be included on such a list.

Ibrahim is even barred from entering the U.S. to testify at her own trial. Ibrahim could only testify via videotaped in London and shown at the trial to the judge – who will decide the case without a jury – Ibrahim denied any affiliation with terrorist groups.

Ibrahim, 48, lives in Malaysia with her husband and four children and is the dean of the architecture and engineering school at the University of Malaysia. Her trouble with the government began in December 2004 when two FBI agents showed up at her house near Stanford University, where she was pursuing a doctoral degree in architecture. She was told by agents that Malaysia was blacklisted by the U.S. government and then questioned her about knowledge regarding the Malaysia-based terror organization, Jemaah Islamiyah – to which she replied she knew about them only through news reports. She was also questioned about her Muslim heritage and involvement in the Muslim community in the San Francisco Bay Area, and replied that she and her family were practicing worshippers.

The following month, she was detained at San Francisco international airport as she was planning to fly to Malaysia with a stopover in Hawaii. She caught a plane to Malaysia the next day, and has been barred from reentering the U.S. since.

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