But Muslims Who Refuse to Spy Were Removed From No-Fly List After They Sued
September 3, 2015, New York – Today, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed against 24 Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents alleging that they had placed and kept law-abiding American Muslims on the No-Fly List in an attempt to coerce the men into spying on their communities. Just days before a hearing on the government’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, in June, the men received letters from the U.S. government confirming they are no longer on the No-Fly List. Today, the judge refused to allow the men to continue litigating the case seeking damages for the harm they have suffered as a result of being placed on the list.
“While the pressure of this lawsuit has compelled the government to remove our clients from the No-Fly List, that does not remedy the harm they suffered as a result of being on the list in the first place,” said Center for Constitutional Rights Senior Managing Attorney Shayana Kadidal. “If the FBI is not held accountable for retaliating against our clients for refusing to spy on their communities, what will deter agents from doing this to others in the future?”
As a result of their placement on the No-Fly List and the FBI’s unwarranted scrutiny, the men were not able to see spouses, children, sick parents, and elderly grandparents who are overseas for years. According to the men, they have lost jobs, been stigmatized within their communities, and suffered severe financial and emotional distress.
“I’m disappointed that I won’t be allowed to have my day in court. Though I can finally travel to see my family, I have missed so many milestones being away and have been treated unfairly,” said Awais Sajjad, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “The FBI agents knew I was desperate and tried to pressure me to become an informant. That shouldn’t go unpunished.”
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. Attorneys say that, despite some reforms, the procedures governing who is placed on the list and how to challenge their placement remain deficient, and that a general lack of transparency and accountability make the No-Fly List, and other watch lists, ripe for abuse. The court reasoned that, even if the federal agents had violated the Constitution, the law currently does not afford a damages remedy for the specific type of religious and speech-retaliation the men suffered.
“FBI agents are tasked with and rewarded for recruiting informants within American Muslim communities,” said CLEAR Senior Staff Attorney Diala Shamas. “These agents abused their ability to place our clients on the No-Fly List to meet this goal and should be held accountable.”
The men in the case allege that agents told them they could get off the No-Fly List if they agreed to work for the FBI. One was asked by the FBI to visit online Islamic forums and “act extremist”; another was asked whether he would travel to Pakistan for the FBI.
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.
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 Law School, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and co-counsel at the law firm of Debevoise & Plimpton LLP.
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.