NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union today filed a first-of-its-kind lawsuit on behalf of 10 U.S. citizens and lawful residents who are prohibited from flying to or from the United States or over U.S. airspace because they are on the government's "No Fly List." None of the individuals in the lawsuit, including a disabled U.S. Marine Corps veteran stranded in Egypt and a U.S. Army veteran stuck in Colombia, have been told why they are on the list or given a chance to clear their names.
"More and more Americans who have done nothing wrong find themselves unable to fly, and in some cases unable to return to the U.S., without any explanation whatsoever from the government," said Ben Wizner, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project. "A secret list that deprives people of the right to fly and places them into effective exile without any opportunity to object is both un-American and unconstitutional."
The ACLU, along with its affiliates in Oregon, Southern California, Northern California and New Mexico, filed the lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice, the FBI and the Terrorist Screening Center in U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon. The plaintiffs on the case are:
- Halime Sat, a German citizen and lawful permanent resident of the United States who lives in California with her U.S.-citizen husband who was barred from flying from Long Beach, California to Oakland to attend a conference and has since had to cancel plane travel to participate in educational programs and her family reunion in Germany;
- Ayman Latif, a U.S. citizen and disabled Marine veteran living in Egypt who has been barred from flying to the United States and, as a result, cannot take a required Veterans' Administration disability evaluation;
- Raymond Earl Knaeble, a U.S. citizen and U.S. Army veteran who is stuck in Santa Marta, Colombia after being denied boarding on a flight to the United States;
- Steven Washburn, a U.S. citizen and U.S. Air Force veteran who was prevented from flying from Europe to the United States or Mexico; he eventually flew to Brazil, from there to Peru, and from there to Mexico, where he was detained and finally escorted across the border by U.S. and Mexican officials;
- Samir Mohamed Ahmed Mohamed, Abdullatif Muthanna, Nagib Ali Ghaleb and Saleh A. Omar, three American citizens and a lawful permanent resident of the United States who were prevented from flying home to the U.S. after visiting family members in Yemen;
- Mohamed Sheikh Abdirahman Kariye, a U.S. citizen and resident of Portland, Oregon who was prevented from flying to visit his daughter who is in high school in Dubai; and
- Adama Bah, a citizen of Guinea who was granted political asylum in the United States, where she has lived since she was two, who was barred from flying from New York to Chicago for work.
According to the ACLU's legal complaint, thousands of people have been added to the "No Fly List" and barred from commercial air travel without any opportunity to learn about or refute the basis for their inclusion on the list. The result is a vast and growing list of individuals who, on the basis of error or innuendo, have been deemed too dangerous to fly but who are too harmless to arrest.
"Without a reasonable way for people to challenge their inclusion on the list, there's no way to keep innocent people off it," said Nusrat Choudhury, a staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project. "The government's decision to prevent people from flying without giving them a chance to defend themselves has a huge impact on people's lives – including their ability to perform their jobs, see their families and, in the case of U.S. citizens, to return home to the United States from abroad."
In addition to Wizner and Choudhury, attorneys on the case are Kevin Díaz and cooperating attorney Steven Wilker with the ACLU of Oregon; Ahilan Arulanantham, Jennie Pasquarella and cooperating attorney Reem Salahi with the ACLU of Southern California; Alan Schlosser and Julia Harumi Mass of the ACLU of Northern California; and Laura Ives of the ACLU of New Mexico. The Council on American-Islamic Relations consulted with Raymond Knaeble and directed him to the ACLU.
Image: Halime Sat.