The Abominable No Fly List
Thursday October 9, 2014
Last week the United States government prohibited poet and journalist Amjad Nasser from speaking at an event to inaugurate the Gallatin Global Writers series at New York University. How did the government do this? By having a policeman at the event inform Nasser that he would be arrested if Nasser took his turn to speak at the event? No, that would be a clear prior restraint on speech in violation of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution — a government action courts routinely rule is prohibited. Instead, the US government simply banned Nasser from flying to the conference.
Nasser recounts the process by which his participation in the event was blocked by a faceless Department of Homeland Security agent on the other end of a phone line at London Heathrow Airport. At the airport terminal, Nasser was handed a phone whereupon the US bureaucrat on the call peppered him with personal questions about Nasser and the event at which Nasser was planning to speak. Nasser relates that, after two hours on the phone, the questioner informed Nasser that Nasser was banned from taking the already booked, and by then already departed, US-bound flight.
While Nasser, a British and Jordanian citizen, had to answer a series of questions regarding his private affairs in hopes that he would just be allowed to board the plane and fulfill his speaking commitment, the US bureaucrat on the other end of the line was not obliged to even provide an explanation for why Nasser was prevented from boarding the plane.