A federal judge in Portland Tuesday ordered the U.S. Justice Department and FBI to come up with new rules for the government's no-fly list. The court found travelers labeled as potential terrorists had been deprived of their constitutional rights to due process.
Thirteen U.S. citizens challenged the no-fly list rules four years ago after being denied boarding at various airports. They include the imam of Portland's largest mosque and an Arabic language student from Seattle. The challengers were represented by the American Civil Liberties Union.
ACLU attorney Hina Shamsi said her clients could not even get confirmation that they were or were not on the terrorist watch list.
"The judge has ordered the government to create a new process that will provide our clients with notice of being on the no-fly list and the government's basis for placing them on the list so that they can meaningfully challenge it," Shamsi said.
The Justice Department declined to comment until it's had more time to review U.S. District Judge Anna Brown's ruling.
In her 65-page opinion, Judge Brown acknowledged the need to balance the due process rights of travelers with national security interests, including the protection of intelligence sources and anti-terrorism strategies.
The plaintiff from Portland, Sheikh Mohamed Kariye, said he is pleased to finally be able to challenge the information the government has used to keep him from flying. “I have been prevented by the government from traveling to visit my family members and fulfill religious obligations for years, and it has had a devastating impact on all of us," Imam Kariye said in statement distributed by the ACLU. "After all this time, I look forward to a fair process that allows me to clear my name in court.”
Court records state that Kariye was surrounded by government officials when he tried to board a flight to Amsterdam from Portland in 2010. An airline employee told him then that he was on the no-fly list.
The other Northwest plaintiff in this case is student Elias Mustafa Mohamed of Seattle. The synopsis of his story in court records states that Mohamed is effectively trapped in Saudi Arabia. In 2010, he traveled to Saudi Arabia to attend an Arabic language certification program. Mohamed learned that his name is on the no fly list from an airline employee after he was denied boarding for a trip back home to Seattle.
After joining this lawsuit, the U.S. government offered Mohamed a "one-time waiver" to return to the United States, which he has so far declined because he is uncertain he will be able to return to Saudi Arabia to complete his studies.
The FBI maintains the confidential no-fly list. It gives the TSA access to pre-screen airline passengers.