On the Watch List

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Thanks to barthjg for pitching this show

When I tried to use the curb-side check in [at the airport], I was denied a boarding pass because I was on the Terrorist Watch list. I was instructed to go inside and talk to a clerk….

I presented my credentials from the Marine Corps to a very polite clerk for American Airlines. One of the two people to whom I talked asked a question and offered a frightening comment: ‘Have you been in any peace marches? We ban a lot of people from flying because of that.’ I explained that I had not so marched but had, in September, 2006, given a lecture at Princeton, televised and put on the Web, highly critical of George Bush for his many violations of the Constitution. ‘That’ll do it,’ the man said.

Walter Murphy, Another Enemy of the People, Balkanization, April 8, 2007.

Not only is Walter Murphy a retired Marine Colonel, he’s also a Professor Emeritus at Princeton and one of the country’s leading constitutional scholars. During the lecture in question, he parsed James Madison’s definition of tyranny, methodically connecting each piece to one of many Bush-era infringements.

His story isn’t new, but it’s a sober, chilling indictment of an invisible, increasingly distressing bureaucracy. Upright American citizens of all stripes have been finding themselves on the list for years now. Diplomats. Grandmothers. We probably shouldn’t be more upset when a decorated veteran and distinguished academic is the Administration’s target, as opposed to some central casting peace protester, but one of the sad facts of our current climate is that it takes someone of his stature to get our attention on matters like these.

Tonight, we’ll be digging through what little we do know about the Watch List. How many people are on it, and who, and why? Have you been branded? Have you fought to win back your patriotic reputation?

Have the critics of the President become the enemies of the state?

Walter F. Murphy

Professor of Jurisprudence, Emeritus, Princeton University

Author, Courts, Judges, and Politics

Karen DeYoung

Staff Writer, Washington Post

Author, Soldier: The Life of Colin Powell

Carol D. Leonnig

Staff Writer, Washington Post

Extra Credit Reading

Karen DeYoung, Terror Database Has Quadrupled In Four Years, The Washington Post, March 25, 2007: “Ballooning from fewer than 100,000 files in 2003 to about 435,000, the growing database threatens to overwhelm the people who manage it. ‘The single biggest worry that I have is long-term quality control,’ said Russ Travers, in charge of TIDE at the National Counterterrorism Center in McLean.”

Mark Graber, Another Enemy of the People?, Balkinization, April 8, 2007: “While he holds some opinions, most notably on welfare, similar to opinions held on the political left, he is a sharp critic of ROE V. WADE, and supported the Alito nomination. Apparently these credentials and others noted below are no longer sufficient to prevent one from becoming an enemy of the people.”

Ryan Singel, Questioning the ‘Professor On Watchlist for Free Speech’ Story, Threat Level, April 9, 2007: “Threat Level is here to tell you that’s it’s 99.9 percent sure the good professor isn’t on any government watchlist for giving a speech. I have no idea why the counterperson would say that individuals are put on the list for joining anti-war protests, but that’s just not true.”

Stuart Buck, Walter Murphy, The Buck Stops Here, April 9, 2007: “Several common names — ‘T. Kennedy,’ ‘J. Adams,’ ‘David Nelson’ — have been selected for extra screening, possibly because someone with terrorist ties has a habit of picking a non-descript alias. Perhaps that’s the real explanation as to Mr. Murphy as well.”

J.D. Abolins, Prof. Walter Murphy’s “No Fly” Incident Not Likely to Have Been Punishment for Speech, Entering the Networked World, April 10, 2007: “If the airport security had said these things, they probably were trying to be ‘helpful’ by guessing the reason for a hit on his name. Ironically, such guessing is not helpful. It assume a direct cause and effect. The checkers would not normally have access to information on how a specific name may end up on the list.”

Matthew, Walter Murphy and the No-Fly List, TriggerFinger, April 9, 2007: “So, what actual penalty was this person subjected to? He was searched more closely than the average joe, but so are lots of other people. He wasn’t barred from his travel, he wasn’t hurt, and he doesn’t even allege something seriously invasive (such as a strip search). So, in other words, he was delayed a little bit.”

King, Separating theorem, SCSU Scholars, April 9, 2007: “Don’t you think the list is created as much by software programmed with errors more than someone sitting in a dark basement under the White House saying, ‘oh, that guy’?”

James Moore, Branded, The Huffington Post, January 4, 2006: “Of course, there’s always the chance that the No Fly Watch List is one of many enemies lists maintained by the Bush White House. If that’s the case, I am happy to be on that list. I am in good company with people who expect more out of their president and their government.”

Orin Kerr, Why Is “Walter Murphy” on the No-Fly List?, The Volokh Conspiracy, April 9, 2006: “If being a harsh critic were enough to end up on the No-Fly list, wouldn’t we have heard about it sooner? Professor Murphy’s primary evidence that he was singled out for his speech is that when he mentioned it as a possible reason to an American Airlines clerk, the clerk responded “that’ll do it.” I wonder, though, would the airline clerk know?”

Daniel J. Solove, Criticize Bush, Get Extra Airline Screening?, Concurring Opinions, April 9, 2006: “I still find Orin’s response to miss the larger issue. The airline screening lists are clandestine and inscrutable. There is no way we could obtain systematic evidence of any bias or improper conduct in placing people on the list. So Orin’s demand for such evidence seems to be a bit unfair when the government has denied us the possibility of learning more about what gets a person placed on an airline screening list.”

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