U.S. Air Force Veteran, Smeared as “an ISIS Fighter,” Just Returned to the U.S.

An ugly and damaging fabrication from anti-Muslim activists ends with full vindication of their target, though the harms endure.

Photo: MSNBC

Saadiq Long, the Muslim U.S. Air Force veteran who was secretly placed on the no-fly list in 2012 and then smeared by a fabricated news report last December claiming he was arrested in Turkey “as a member of an ISIS cell,” left Turkey last week and has now returned to the U.S. The U.S. government, which worked to secure Long’s release from a Turkish deportation center, gave him a waiver from the no-fly list to enable him to fly back home. Along with his wife and daughter, Long, as the Washington Post reported, arrived Wednesday night at JFK Airport in New York. After questioning by immigration officials, the family cleared customs and immigration and was admitted into the country.

Needless to say, that Long was able to leave Turkey and freely enter the U.S. further demonstrates that the December report that he was arrested as an “ISIS fighter” was a complete fabrication. The U.S. government does not work to secure the release of “ISIS fighters,” give them waivers from the no-fly list, and then allow them to waltz back into the U.S. and be free on American soil. “Saadiq and his family’s return to the United States confirms, if there was still any doubt, that Turkey does not believe them to be ISIS operatives,” Gadeir Abbas, Long’s lawyer, told The Intercept.

The smearing of Long as an “ISIS fighter” by the rabidly anti-Muslim website “Pajamas Media,” based on anonymous government officials, was a sham. From the start, Long and his family were held only in a deportation center after the Turkish government claimed he intended to stay in the country without the proper visa — largely due to the fact that he was on the U.S.’s no-fly list — and he was never charged with (let alone convicted of) anything remotely to do with terrorism or ISIS.

As we reported, Long and his family were being held for deportation on alleged immigration violations, and a legal brief filed last December by the Justice Department in response to Long’s lawsuit demanding removal from the no-fly list also states that Long and his wife and daughter were detained because Turkish authorities “determined that the three had neither legal residence nor legal employment in Turkey.” As the DOJ itself said, once the Longs decided on their travel plans out of Turkey, “the U.S. government had reviewed the proposed travel plans and had no objection to those plans.” And the Longs did indeed leave Turkey as soon as they decided on travel plans to the U.S., which they were free to do because — obviously — neither the Americans nor the Turkish government really believe he has anything to do with ISIS.

But consider the permanent damage done to Long’s reputation and future job prospects. The fabricated report from Pajamas Media was uncritically repeated by all sorts of news organizations (including in Long’s hometown in Oklahoma where his family lives) and was trumpeted by some of the loudest and most toxic anti-Muslim activists: Pam GellerAnn Coulter, and Sam Harris.

Even after The Intercept presented abundant evidence that the story was fabricated (including proof that Long was merely held for deportation in Turkey on immigration violations and multiple emails from the U.S. government showing it was working to secure his release), and even after a local Oklahoma TV station that originally repeated the story confirmed that it was false, Pajamas Media announced that it stood by its accusations (Harris at first apologized for promoting the false story, then seemed to retract the apology by once again promoting the new PJ Media allegations). Thanks to all of that, this false report, linking Long to ISIS, will be attached to his name online forever.


Screen grab of story correction by Oklahoma news website News9.com

Photo: News9.com

Even with the clear vindication of being free back in the U.S., Long — beyond the reputational damage he suffered — remains in an extremely difficult situation. He continues to be on the no-fly list without any explanation or recourse. That means that he is currently unable to fly from New York back to Oklahoma where his family resides, or to another country of his choosing, even if he agrees to extra searching or traveling with air marshals (both of which he’s offered previously). Underscoring the absurdity of the no-fly list, he’s free to board a crowded train or bus (or obviously enter crowded shopping malls, landmarks, and street corners), and the fact that he has now flown multiple times without incident — to the U.S. and within it — seems to have no bearing on the U.S. government’s ongoing Kafkaesque, due process-free refusal to allow him on a plane.

But whatever else is true, Long was never charged with being “an ISIS fighter,” and the actions of both the U.S. and Turkish governments make clear that he is not regarded as one (indeed, if the reckless commentators who trumpeted this story really believe it to be true, they would be marching on the Department of Homeland Security for having just allowed an “ISIS fighter” to freely enter the U.S.).

Despite all the evidence of its falsity, the fabricated story that he was arrested as an “ISIS fighter” went viral all over the internet, to mainstream media outlets, and beyond. Few things are worse than being Muslim and having the “terrorism” cloud anonymously placed over your head with no ability to confront it. This whole spectacle is worth thinking about for what it means to be a U.S. Muslim in the age of the war on terror, and how the most irresponsible anti-Muslim voices regularly disseminate outright falsehoods to advance their toxic agenda.

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