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In an effort to prove that Barack Obama is not eligible to be president, birthers have come up with some very creative arguments. A curious reader forwarded a chain e-mail that made an interesting claim.
"Pakistan was on the U.S. State Department's 'no travel' list in 1981," read the e-mail. Therefore, "when Obama went to Pakistan in 1981 he was traveling either with a British passport or an Indonesian passport."
The most effective chain e-mails, like the best lies, are built on an incorrect but seemingly plausible "fact" that they follow to what seems like a sound conclusion. In this case, the "fact" on which the entire argument rests is that Pakistan was on a "no travel" list in 1981. If that were true, Obama would either have had to use a different passport or enter the country illegally and request his passport not be stamped, as some Americans have done over the years to travel to Cuba.
Obama has said he traveled to Pakistan in 1981. He was on summer vacation from college, and, after visiting his mother in Indonesia, he traveled to Pakistan with a college friend. However, according to the U.S. Department of State, the department in charge of issuing travel bans, Pakistan had a green light for adventurous U.S. citzens.
"According to our Pakistan experts," said Ivna Giauque, a public affairs officer at the State Department, "there was no travel ban to Pakistan in 1981."
Without the original premise that Pakistan had a travel ban, the rest of the argument deteriorates. The author of the e-mail may have been confusing a travel warning or travel advisory with a travel ban. The University of Illinois at Chicago Library has an archive of State Department documents, including one from Aug. 17, 1981, issuing a travel advisory for Pakistan. It is the oldest travel advisory document in the archive related to Pakistan.
Even if Obama traveled after the advisory was issued instead of earlier in the summer, the State Department confirmed it wasn't illegal. Our good friends at Snopes and Factcheck.org found a travel article about visiting Pakistan published in the New York Times in June 1981, and it mentions nothing about such travel being illegal. An August 1981 letter to the editor in the New York Times by the U.S. Consul General in Lahore, Pakistan, encouraged people to come visit. We also found an ad in the New York Times from March which listed Karachi and Lahore as two destinations in their travel package.
In 1981, travel to Pakistan was not illegal or prohibited. Somebody was just looking for an excuse to promote the birther conspiracy, so we rate it Pants On Fire.
E-mail Interview with Ivna Giauque, Public Affairs Officer at U.S. Department of State, June 14, 2010
Jake Tapper, "Obama's College Trip to Pakistan," ABC News, April 08, 2008.
Factcheck.org, "More 'Birther' Nonsense: Obama's 1981 Pakistan Trip," June 5, 2009.
Snopes.com, "Passport of Call," July 14, 2009.
Barbara Crossette, "Lahore, A Survivor with a Bittersweet History," NY Times, June 14, 1981.
John Brims, "Lahore," NY Times, August 23, 1981.
Bureau of Consular Affairs, "Travel Advisory to Pakistan," University of Illinois at Chicago Library, August 17, 1981.
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