ACLU Suit Challenges No-Fly List

Calling the government’s terrorist screening system “broken” and “ineffective,” the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a lawsuit on behalf of ten US citizens, military members and legal permanent residents who have been barred from flying because they are wrongfully included on the government’s no-fly list.

The No-Fly List is a component of the government’s terrorist watch list system, and was created in 2001 in the months following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City.

The plaintiffs represented in the case include a disabled Marine veteran in Egypt, an Army veteran stranded in Columbia and an Air Force veteran.

The ACLU complaint claims that barring the plaintiffs from air travel is unconstitutional. The ACLU and its affiliates filed the suit in a US District Court in Oregon against the FBI, the Terrorist Screening Center and the US Department of Justice.

The list currently prevents thousands of American citizens and residents from using commercial air travel even though they are “too harmless to arrest,” according to the ACLU.

The ACLU announcement comes just days after reports that six-year-old Alyssa Thomas of Westlake, Ohio, was unable to board a plane in Cleveland with her family on a trip to attend a first communion in Minneapolis. Homeland Security has since taken her off the list after days of media coverage made Thomas the no-fly list “poster child.”

The no-fly list is confidential and the federal government does not disclose who is on the list and why they have been included. Homeland Security simply acknowledges that it exists.

“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 US citizens, to return home to the United States from abroad.”

The ACLU complaint alleges that innocent Americans end up on the no-fly list due to “error and innuendo.”

Here is a list of the people represented by the ACLU:

  • Ayman Latif, a US 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 US citizen and US Army veteran, who is stuck in Santa Marta, Colombia, after being denied boarding on a flight to the United States;
  • Steven Washburn, a US citizen and US 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 US 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 US after visiting family members in Yemen.
  • Mohamed Sheikh Abdirahman Kariye, a US citizen and resident of Portland, Oregon, who was prevented from flying to visit his daughter who is in high school in Dubai.
  • Adama Bah, a citizen of Guinea, who was granted political asylum in the United States, where she has lived since she was two. She was barred from flying from New York to Chicago for work.
  • Halime Sat, a German citizen and lawful, permanent resident of the United States, who lives in California with her US-citizen husband. She 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.