A suit brought by four Muslim-American men with no criminal records asserts that the FBI put them on the no-fly list in order to pressure them to inform on their communities. Brooklynite Awais Sajjad, one of the plaintiffs, says that he was denied boarding for a flight to visit his sickly grandmother in Pakistan in 2012, and that subsequently, the FBI told him they would remove him from the no-fly list only if he worked as an FBI informant. Sajjad's has tried all the official means of getting himself removed from the no-fly list, without any success. Sajjad's co-plaintiffs tell similar stories.
The case echoes that of Dr Rahinah Ibrahim, the first person to successfully appeal being placed on the US no-fly list. In her case, it emerged that she had been put on the list due to an administrative error (an FBI officer ticked the wrong box on a form) and that subsequently the DHS, Justice Department and FBI conspired to use state secrecy to cover up their error, even though they knew that there was no conceivable reason to keep Ibrahim on the no-fly list.
Sajjad and co will have to overcome the same secrecy privilege and the same culture of ass-covering indifference to innocence from the FBI and its allies in government. I don't like their chances, but I wish them luck.
Sajjad's attorneys, Susan Hu and Diala Shamas, told Ars that, prior to filing this suit, Sajjad had exhausted all other possible administrative procedures. They explained that, upon learning of his no-fly list status, he immediately filed a Department of Homeland Security Traveler Redress Inquiry Program (TRIP) application, as well as an appeal a year later. But never heard back from DHS regarding either this initial application or appeal.
Hu and Shamas also said that their clients' constitutional due process and free speech rights have been violated. The no-fly redress procedures, they argued, fail to provide any meaningful notice or opportunity to see or challenge the allegations that gets someone placed on the list. Additionally, their clients' placement on the no-fly list, allegedly in retaliation for exercising their rights to not become informants, violates their First Amendment rights, the lawyers said.
"The lack of transparency is the biggest problem here," Hu said. "It's not enough to tell the American people to trust us. Especially when you have clear instances of abuse."
Hu further described what the plaintiffs hope to accomplish in suing the government: "Our clients are not a risk to aviation security. So the government should tell them that they are off the no-fly list. They also need to create adequate safeguards so that our clients have opportunity for notice and a fair hearing. We hope to make the whole process more transparent."
Suit claims Muslims put on no-fly list for refusing to become informants [Joe Silver/Ars Technica]
(Image: J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building, Cliff, CC-BY)