After the attacks of September 11, 2001, President Bush expanded the uses of the list of “specially designated nationals,” which banks have traditionally used to thwart financial transactions of drug dealers and other criminals. The Washington Post reports that Bush retooled the list to target terrorists. It then grew longer, reaching 250 pages, and all businesses were blocked from doing businesses with those on it.
“The law is ridiculous,” said Tom Hudson, a lawyer in Hanover, Md. “It prohibits anyone from doing business with anyone who’s on the list. It does not have a minimum dollar amount. . . . The local deli, if it sells a sandwich to someone whose name appears on the list, has violated the law.”
The problem is, the names of many innocent American citizens are similar to those on the list. The penalties businesses face for violating Bush’s rule—up to $10 million and 30 years in prison—are stiff enough to scare them away from customers whose names vaguely resemble any of the nearly 3,500 on the list. Take Tom Kubbany. He has good credit, but couldn’t get a mortgage because his middle name is Hassan—an extremely common Arab name, which is also purportedly an alias of one of Saddam Hussein’s sons. Never mind that Kubbany was born in Detroit in 1949, and the government believes his alleged namesake was born in 1980 or 1983. There is no penalty for wrongfully turning someone away.
You’re most likely to suffer these humiliations if your name is or sounds Muslim. The Bush administration’s no-fly list also mainly affects those whose names resemble Muslim terrorists’, but “300 names a day are added to the government’s “no-fly” list, which has included Senator Ted Kennedy, the star of Ozzie and Harriet, and at least 14 infants. The so-called watch list is more likely to affect you. The names on it include everyone who has purchased a last-minute or one-way ticket, or whose name resembles that of someone who did. (I’m on that list, so I have to take my shoes off and have my bag hand-searched at every security checkpoint.)