Case to Be Heard in Court Friday
June 10, 2015, New York – 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 finally received letters from the U.S. government this week confirming their removal from the list. Coming only days before a federal court hearing in New York City in Tanvir v. Lynch, the lawsuit brought by the men to challenge their placement on the list, 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.
The lawsuit 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. Oral argument on the government’s motion to dismiss the case will be heard on Friday, June 12, 2015.
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.
“I have no words. This is very big news for me,” said Awais Sajjad, one of the plaintiffs. “I hope next month I will travel to visit my grandmother in Pakistan. I miss my grandmother who is very sick and over 90 years old now. She raised me after my mother’s death.”
“They have done a lot of damage to me and to my life. They messed up my life,” said Jameel Algibhah, another plaintiff. “I haven’t seen my family in a long time. My youngest daughter doesn’t even know me. I want to continue this lawsuit.”
Prior to this and other lawsuits, the government operated the No-Fly List in near-total secrecy and never told people why they were listed 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.
“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.”
“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.
Attorneys from CLEAR, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and Debevoise & Plimpton LLP will appear in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan this Friday, June 12, 2015, to continue to seek redress for the harms suffered by the plaintiffs as a result of their unlawful and retaliatory placement on the No-Fly List.
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 watchlists or approached for interrogation or recruitment by law enforcement agencies.