Thirteen United States citizens represented by the American Civil Liberties Union sued the US government after they were prevented from flying over US airspace after January 1, 2009. They believed that they were on the No-Fly List because airline representatives, FBI agents and other government officials had informed them of this fact. But the government had provided them no notice or information on why they were placed on the watch list so they could challenge their inclusion.
On June 24, after four years, the citizens finally achieved the victory they had been seeking. The US District Court for the District of Oregon ruled [PDF] the citizens who were placed on the No-Fly List had their rights to “procedural due process” violated. The current process was determined to be unconstitutional, and the court instructed the government to “provide a new process” that satisfies the “constitutional requirements for due process.”
Judge Anna Brown noted, “Each plaintiff submitted applications for redress through the Department of Homeland Security Traveler Redress Inquiry Program (DHS TRIP). Yet, “despite plaintiffs’ requests to officials and agencies for explanations as to why they were not permitted to board flights,” explanations were not provided. In fact, the government would not even confirm or deny whether they were on the No-Fly List.
The ACLU managed to convince the government to let each of these Americans return home after they petitioned the court. A number of them had been stranded abroad when they joined the lawsuit.
Who exactly are these people, who the government would not inform whether they were on the No-Fly List and argued in court they had no right to more information about being on a watch list?
US Army veteran Raymon Earl Knaeble IV, who lives in Chicago, had been working in Kuwait for a multinational global defense and security company, ITT System Corporation. In March 2010, he flew from Kuwait to Bogota, Colombia, so he could marry his wife, who is a Colombian citizen. On March 14, he was not permitted to board his flight from Bogota to Miami.
Knaeble had been offered a job in Qatar, but it required that he receive a physical examination in Killeen, Texas, on March 16. Because no airline would allow him on any flight, he eventually lost the offer to work for ITT in Qatar.
FBI agents questioned him numerous times in Colombia. In May 2010, Knaeble attempted to get to the US another way by flying to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, and crossing the US-Mexico border. But, when the flight stopped (as it typically does) in Mexico City, agents from the Mexican government questioned him for over three hours and detained him for fifteen hours. He was not allowed to travel to Nuevo Laredo or by bus to the border. Agents put him on a flight to Bogota.
He eventually made it back to the US after traveling for twelve days from Santa Marta to Mexicali, California. He flew to Panama City and then took buses to Mexicali. However, the travel was “fraught with peril” and he feared for his safety.
“Honduran and El Salvadoran authorities interrogated, detained, and searched me on three occasions,” Knaeble explained in his court declaration [PDF]. “In Guatemala, I was followed and questioned. These experiences caused me to fear for my safety. Every time foreign authorities stopped me or subjected me to questioning and searches, I did not know if they would permit me to proceed or would detain me.”
US Marine Corps veteran Ayman Latif, who lives in Georgia and has a wife and children, lived with his family in Egypt from November 2008 to April 2010. They tried to return to the US in April 2010, but Latif was not permitted to board the first leg of the flight.
A month later, FBI agents questioned Latif. He was told he was on the No-Fly List. He later obtained a “one-time waiver” to fly to the US, however, while he was trying to get back to the US, he was unable to be at scheduled evaluations he had to attend to continue to receive veteran disability benefits. His benefits of $899.00 per month were reduced to zero.
US Air Force veteran Steven Washburn, who lives in New Mexico, attempted to fly from Dublin to London to Meixco City. He made it to London, but the plane turned around three hours after taking off from London. He was detained after the plane landed, according to his court declaration [PDF].
On multiple occasions, Washburn was interrogated by FBI agents. He took “a series of five flights” in May 2010 that landed in Juarez, Mexico. He crossed the US-Mexico border on foot and returned to Las Cruces but was detained and interrogated for three hours by Mexican officials. Later, in June 2012, an FBI agent came to his workplace and told him if he spoke with the FBI he could have his name removed from the No-Fly List.
US Marine Corps veteran Ibraheim Y. Mashal, who works as a dog trainer, was not allowed to fly from Chicago to Spokane, Washington, to go meet with a woman who had hired him to train her dog. An airline representative told him on April 20, 2010, he was on the No-Fly List. That same day FBI agents interrogated him at Midway International Airport and in his home.
“Two of the FBI agents who questioned me the day I was denied boarding asked me to speak to them again,” Mashal stated in a court declaration [PDF]. “Because I had nothing to hide, I met with them on June 23, 2010. The agents again asked me deeply personal questions about my religious beliefs and practices, political opinions and family. They told me that if I would help the FBI by serving as an informant my name would be removed from the No-Fly List and I would receive compensation. I told the agents that I did not feel comfortable answering their questions without my attorney present. The agents promptly ended the meeting.”
Mashal founded a national non-profit organization, Always Faithful Service Dogs, along with other veterans in January 2012. The organization provides service and therapy dogs to disabled military veterans in the country. He is the organization’s president and head dog trainer, but Mashal has not been able to attend events in California or Boston or go to Board of Directors meetings in California because he is on the No-Fly List.
Amir Meshal wanted to fly from Irvine, California, to Newark New Jersey, but in June 2009, he was not permitted to board his flight. FBI agents told him he was on a “government list” that prohibited him from flying.
Later, in October 2010, FBI agents informed him he could be removed from the No-Fly List if he became a government informant. “If you help us, we can help you off the No-Fly List,” Meshal was told [PDF].
Mashaal Rana moved to Pakistan and pursued a master’s degree in Islamic studies in 2009. When she tried to board a flight from Lahore, Pakistan, to New York, in February 2010, she was not allowed to fly. An FBI agent later interrogated his brother in the US, according to her court declaration [PDF].
She tried to fly back to the US again in October 2012 because she was six-months pregnant and needed medical care in New York to deliver her child. Her brother worked with US officials to obtain a clearance to fly home on November 3, but five hours before she was to depart, her brother told her he had been informed by an FBI agent that she would not be able to get on her flight.
Rana was offered a “one-time waiver” to fly back home a week later. She declined to use it because she did not think she would be able to fly back to Pakistan to be with her husband.
Sheikh Mohamed Abdirahman Kariye, an imam of one of Portland’s largest mosques, has a wife and children. In March 2010, he was not permitted to fly to Amsterdam and found himself surrounded by government officials at the Portland International Airport.
“An airline employee told me that I could not fly because I am on a government watch list,” Kariye stated in a declaration [PDF]. “When she told me this, five government officials, including a police officer, detective US Marshal and two FBI agents were surrounding me.”
“I felt humiliated that everyone near me in the airport, including government and airline officials and other travelers, could see that I was denied boarding on my flight. I felt like I was being treated like a suspected terrorist.”
In February 2010, Nagib Ali Ghaleb, who lives in Oakland, California, tried to travel to San Francisco from Yemen, where his wife and children were living. The flight was scheduled to stop in Frankfurt. He was not permitted to board the flight from Frankfurt to San Francisco. He flew back to Sanaa and a US Embassy official later told him he was not permitted to be on any flights to the US.
“About two weeks later,” according to a court declaration [PDF] from Ghaleb, “a US official asked me to come to the US Embassy for questioning.
“I met with two officials, one of whom was an FBI agent. The interrogators offered to arrange for me to fly back immediately to the United States ifI would agree to tell them who the ‘bad guys’ were in Yemen and in San Francisco. The interrogators insisted that I could provide the names of people from my mosque and my community. When I told the interrogators that I was not interested in spying on the Yemeni community, they told me that if I did not cooperate, they would have me arrested and jailed in Yemen. They advised me to ‘think about it.’”
Ghaleb was eventually granted a “one-time waiver” to fly to the US in July.
Also, Abdullatif Muthanna, a US citizen who traveled to Yemen to see family, was not permitted to board his flight from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to New York. He was told by an airline employee and Saudi immigration official that he was “prohibited from flying.”
“I was very distressed that I could not fly back to the United States,” according to a court declaration from Muthanna [PDF]. “I suffer from mental health and digestive conditions that require medical treatment. I needed to return to Rochester to see my general physician and specialist, to adjust my medication, and to secure medication that was not available in Yemen.”
Muthanna joined the lawsuit and shortly after US officials communicated with him about a “one-time waiver” so he could return to the US. He came back to Rochester, but after being separated from his family for two years, in 2012, he sought to return to Yemen. He tried to board a flight from Rochester to New York and was denied.
FBI agents came and visited him in the store where he worked several days later. He tried to get on a flight to Abu Dhabi but could not get a boarding pass. Two months passed. He did extensive research hoping to find a way to get to his family.
“I planned to drive from Rochester to Philadelphia. I then planned to sail by cargo freighter from Philadelphia to Jebel Ali, United Arab Emirates via Antwerp, Belgium through a shipping company called The Cruise People, Ltd. I hoped that after reaching Jebel Ali, I could travel to Yemen by car or bus. I feared that it may not be safe to travel from Jebel Ali to Yemen over land due to the civil conflict in Yemen. But, I could not find any other way to travel to Yemen to be with my family.”
The day he was to travel, August 12, Captain Jaroscaw Bielewsk informed him he was not allowed to sail. He would also be denied passage between Antwerp and Jebel Ali. The captain later told his ACLU attorney that this was because of a Customs and Border Protection “recommendation.”
In January 2010, Faisal Nabin Kashem, who lives with his family in Connecticut, traveled to Saudi Arabia for a two-year Arabic language-certification program. He also enrolled in a four-year Islamic studies program. When he tried to come back to the US in June, he was able to get on the flight and an airline employee told him he was on the No-Fly List.
Two FBI agents also questioned Kashem on July 6 and informed him he was on the watch list. He joined the lawsuit in August 2010 and, subsequently, US officials communicated with him about flying back to the US. They offered him a “one-time waiver” so he could fly home. He declined to use it because he did not think he would be able to return to Saudi Arabia to continue his studies.
The issue of FBI agents using the No-Fly List to coerce American Muslims into becoming government informants is the subject of another lawsuit, and this lawsuit does not resolve that issue. It does, however, offer each of these Americans the hope that they will finally be able to clear their name.
For all of these Americans, it means they will be able to finally travel to be with family, who they have not been able to see for years. It may no longer disrupt their careers. It may open up the possibility of being able to travel to Saudi Arabia to perform a hajj, which is a religious pilgrimage and considered an Islamic obligation. It may remove some of the fear of going somewhere and being detained and interrogated by foreign authorities.
Above all, they will finally get to know the truth about why their government had them placed on a watch list that brought them so much anxiety, hardship and suffering and whether it was a mistake or a deliberate act by government officials.