No-Fly List Lawsuit Argues That FBI Retaliated Against Muslims Refusing to Spy

New York – On June 12, attorneys for four American Muslim men with no criminal records who were placed or kept on the No-Fly List by the FBI in retaliation for their refusal to become informants urged a federal court to reject the government’s motion to dismiss their case. The lawsuit alleges the FBI attempted to coerce the men into spying on their religious communities through their placement on the No-Fly List and that agents told them they could get off the list if they agreed to work for the FBI.

The lawsuit, Tanvir v. Lynch, was brought in 2014 on behalf of Muhammad Tanvir, Jameel Algibhah, Naveed Shinwari, and Awais Sajjad by the CLEAR project (Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility) at CUNY School of Law, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and co-counsel at the law firm of Debevoise & Plimpton LLP.

Earlier this week, the men finally received letters from the U.S. government confirming they are not now on the No-Fly List. Coming only days before today’s federal court hearing in New York City, the letters concede what the men have always known: that they never posed a security threat of any kind and that the FBI only listed them to coerce them into spying on their faith community.

“They have done a lot of damage to me and to my life. They messed up my life,” said Jameel Algibhah, a plaintiff in the case. “I haven’t seen my family in a long time. My youngest daughter doesn’t even know me. I want to continue this lawsuit.”

One plaintiff was asked by the FBI to visit online Islamic forums and “act extremist”; another was asked whether he would travel to Pakistan for theFBI. As a result of their placement on the No-Fly List and the FBI’s unwarranted scrutiny, the plaintiffs have not been able to see spouses, children, sick parents, and elderly grandparents who are overseas, for years. They have lost jobs, been stigmatized within their communities, and suffered severe financial and emotional distress.

“These four men spent years not knowing whether they could fly, with the stigma of being on the list hanging over their heads. While we’re gratified that our clients can now get on with their lives, what happened here was not a simple error, it was an abuse invited by a system that lacks transparency and accountability. The courts need to ensure that people placed on the list solely as leverage to force them to spy on their communities can seek justice for the injuries they suffered,” said Shayana Kadidal, Senior Managing Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Prior to this and other lawsuits, the government operated the No-Fly List in near-total secrecy and never told people why they were on the list or gave them a meaningful chance to dispute their placement. The lack of transparency and accountability made the list ripe for abuse by FBI agents, who often face pressure from their superiors to recruit human sources. As of 2012, the No-Fly List contained over 21,000 names, and by the summer of 2013 it was up to 48,000, according to the Associated Press.

“While the government’s changes to its No-Fly List-related practices and procedures under the pressure of civil rights litigation constitute progress, they do not go far enough,” said Professor Ramzi Kassem, supervising attorney at CLEAR. “It remains far too easy for the government to place people on the No-Fly List and far too difficult for those people to challenge that decision.”

For more information, visit the Tanvir case page.