July 29, 2016 – New York – Today, three 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 appealed the dismissal of their lawsuit against the Federal Bureau of Investigation. FBI agents told the men they could get off the No Fly List if they agreed to serve as spies in Muslim communities—not because the government suspected involvement in crime, but simply because the Bureau was interested in collecting information on American Muslims.
Tanvir v. Lynch was brought in 2014 on behalf of Muhammad Tanvir, Jameel Algibhah, and Naveed Shinwari 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.
Last summer, only days before the first major court hearing in their case, the men received letters from the U.S. government confirming their removal from the list and effectively conceding 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. Later, the judge dismissed their remaining claims seeking damages for the harm they suffered as a result of being placed on the list.
As a result of their placement on the No Fly List and the FBI’s unwarranted scrutiny, the plaintiffs were unable to see wives, children, sick parents, and elderly grandparents overseas for years. They lost jobs, were stigmatized within their communities, and suffered severe financial and emotional distress.
“Unless there are consequences for constitutional violations, there is nothing to prevent them from recurring in the future,” said Center for Constitutional Rights Senior Managing Attorney Shayana Kadidal. “Though our lawsuit forced the government to undo our clients’ abusive placement on the No-Fly List, removing people from the list alone cannot repair the harms they suffer while on it.”
Prior to lawsuits challenging the No-Fly List, the government operated the list in near-total secrecy and never told people why they were on it or gave them a meaningful chance to dispute their placement. Despite some reforms made under the pressure of litigation, the procedures governing who is placed on the list and how to challenge their placement remain gravely deficient, and the lack of transparency and accountability still leaves the No-Fly List, and other watch lists, ripe for abuse.
“FBI agents target vulnerable American Muslims on a regular basis, including those with financial, immigration, or criminal issues,” said CLEAR Staff Attorney Naz Ahmad. “Because our clients had none of those vulnerabilities, FBI agents had to create one before they could exploit it.”
In dismissing the case, the district court reasoned that even if the federal agents had violated the Constitution, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 currently does not afford a damages remedy for the specific type of religious and speech retaliation the men suffered. However, most other courts have ruled that it does, and the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel agreed in a published opinion in 1994.”.
The CLEAR project (Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility) is based out of Main Street Legal Services, Inc., the clinical arm of CUNY School of Law. CLEAR serves Arab, Muslim, South Asian, and other communities that are disparately affected by post-9/11 law enforcement policies and practices. In the course of its work, CLEAR has come to represent many individuals who have been placed on various U.S. government watch lists or approached for interrogation or recruitment by law enforcement agencies. Visit www.cunyclear.org and follow @CUNY_CLEAR.
The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.