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Lawyers to challenge U.S. 'no fly' list in federal court in Oregon

Lawyers for a group of Muslim Americans barred from U.S. air travel will challenge procedures surrounding the secretive "no fly" list in court on Friday, arguing they are unconstitutional because those on the list have no real way to clear their names. (Commons.wikimedia.org)
Lawyers for a group of Muslim Americans barred from U.S. air travel will challenge procedures surrounding the secretive "no fly" list in court on Friday, arguing they are unconstitutional because those on the list have no real way to clear their names. (Commons.wikimedia.org)

By Teresa Carson

PORTLAND, Oregon (Reuters) - Lawyers for a group of Muslim Americans barred from U.S. air travel will challenge procedures surrounding the secretive "no fly" list in court on Friday, arguing they are unconstitutional because those on the list have no real way to clear their names.

The 13 plaintiffs in the case, who deny any links to terrorism, said they learned of their no-fly status when they were blocked from boarding commercial flights and complain they were denied any effective means of petitioning the government to be removed from the list.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued federal officials in 2010, saying the government provided no "meaningful opportunity to object" to being on the list, in violation of the constitutional right to due process.

"For three years, the people we represent have been banned from flying without any after-the-fact explanation or hearing," ACLU lawyer Nusrat Choudhury said.

"All they seek is a chance to correct mistakes and misunderstandings" that put them on the list, she added. The group includes four U.S. military veterans.

The "no fly" list, established in 2003 in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks, bars those on it from flying within the United States or to and from the country.

As of last year, it included some 20,000 people deemed by the FBI as having, or reasonably suspected of having, ties to terrorism, an agency spokesman said at the time. About 500 of them were U.S. citizens.

The government argues there is an adequate appeals process in place and that all the plaintiffs have used it. The Department of Justice declined to discuss the case on Thursday.

ACLU court documents said the Muslim Americans involved in the case "flew commercial airlines without incident until they were branded as suspected terrorists based on secret evidence, publicly denied boarding on flights and told by U.S. officials that they were banned from flying - perhaps forever."

The ACLU said those on the list do not get any warning until they go to the airport and are told they cannot fly.

Being on the list also has "devastating consequences" on the personal and professional lives of its clients, the ACLU said.

One Air Force veteran has been stuck in New Mexico, separated from his wife in Ireland - who is having visa trouble - for more than three years, Choudhury said.

The ACLU argues that those seeking to question or challenge their no-fly status are confined to a dead-end process in which they fill out a form and receive no explanation in return.

Oral arguments in the case will be heard by U.S. District Judge Anna Brown on Friday in Portland. The ACLU names U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, the FBI chief and others in the suit.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Jim Loney)

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