SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - The fate of a Malaysian professor's eight-year battle with the U.S. government over the no-fly terrorist watch list rests with the federal judge who heard closing arguments Friday.
Rahinah Ibrahim was arrested at San Francisco International Airport in January 2005 after Transportation Security Administration agents refused to let her board a United Airlines flight to Hawaii, ostensibly because she was on the no-fly list.
Though she later was cleared to fly to Malaysia, the government revoked her student visa before she could return to Stanford to finish her doctoral thesis in April that year.
Ibrahim - now a professor at University Putra Malaysia - sued the federal government in 2006, claiming that her placement on watch lists violated her freedom to travel, deprived her of due process and damaged her reputation as a construction expert and scholar.
The first-ever challenge to the no-fly list to go to trial began Monday without Ibrahim, who continues to be denied entry into the U.S. - even to litigate her own case - for reasons the government repeatedly refused to divulge, citing "sensitive security information."
Much of the trial took place behind closed doors for the same reason, a fact U.S. District Judge William Alsup apologized for each time he removed the public from the courtroom.
"This is not right, not the way it's supposed to be done," Alsup said during the trial. "In the United States of America we're supposed to have open and public trials, but I guess my hands are tied in this case."
Throughout the trial, Ibrahim's pro bono attorneys from the San Jose Firm McManis Faulkner have hammered home that federal agents make arbitrary decisions to blacklist someone with little or no basis in actual fact.
One of their experts, attorney and author Jeffrey Kahn, said the whole purpose of the Terrorist Screening Database is to "put all the hay in the haystack."
"It starts with an FBI agent placing someone on the Terrorist Screening Database with just the 'reasonable articulable suspicion' - one level above a hunch," Kahn testified Wednesday.
"Standards are 'generally followed,' 'where appropriate,'" Kahn said, citing an FBI report found on a public website.
In her closing argument Friday, Ibrahim's attorney Elizabeth Pipkin said the case is about "the right to travel free from government interference."
"The watch list has expanded to affect hundreds of thousands of people and deprived them of their constitutional right to travel," Pipkin said.
"Ibrahim never wanted to take on the government, but she has persevered to stand up for the rights of all."
Pipkin said that even an agent who worked for the Terrorist Screening Center conceded that Ibrahim did not meet watch list standards, which purportedly bar inclusion on the basis of national origin and religion. Ibrahim is Muslim.
"Dr. Ibrahim is not a threat to this country, and there's no national security threat to allow a scholar to travel here for the purpose of enlightening society," Pipkin said.
She also took issue with the fact that there's no way for blacklisted people to clear their names, since the government will not divulge who "nominated" them or why.