Fifteen U.S. Muslims, including four military veterans, are suing the federal government, alleging they were placed on the "no-fly" list without any explanation -- or any way to get off it.
The lawsuit, argued by the American Civil Liberties Union, is now before a U.S. Appeals court.
It is the first broad challenge to the government's no-fly list, which was established in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to block anyone suspected of terrorist ties from boarding a flight to or from the U.S.
The group of 13 U.S. citizens and two permanent residents claim they pose no threat, and say their constitutional right to due process was violated when they were given no reason why they were included on the watchlist.
Many of the Muslim Americans involved in the lawsuit have been prevented from visiting family or traveling for work, Nusrat Choudhury, staff attorney at the ACLU national security project, told the Daily News.
Several discovered they were on the list after getting stranded overseas when they were forbidden from flying back into the country.
The suit was first filed in 2010 in Oregon, where a district court dismissed it due to lack of proper jurisdiction. At that time, the government gave each of the 10 travelers who were stranded a one-time waiver to fly home, but no explanation of why they were put on the list or if they were still on it, Choudhury said.
The ACLU appealed the decision to the 9th U.S. Appeals Court, which heard the case Friday and will decide the proper venue for the case, Reuters reported.
The secret no-fly list was established in 2003 under the FBI's Terrorist Screening Center. About 20,000 people are on the list â including 500 U.S. citizens â for having or being reasonably suspected of having terrorist ties.
The FBI must have "articulable intelligence" to support that someone is a threat, a spokesman for the FBI screening center told the Daily News.
Choudhury said none of the plaintiffs in the case poses any threat to airline security.
"They're ordinary Americans like everyone else," she said. "What happened to them could happen to anyone when the government operates a secret watchlist."
FBI screening center policy is not to reveal who is on the no-fly list because terrorists who find out they're on it could change their identity or find someone else to carry out a terrorist act in their place, said a screening center spokesman.
"Once you set a precedent you have to tell everybody," he said.
The Council on American Islamic Relations regularly gets calls from Muslim Americans who were detained when trying to board a flight, MSNBC reported. Most don't pursue legal action, and instead will try to take a car, train or boat if possible, the group said.
Those who want to contest the ban are directed to the Traveler Redress Information Program, part of the Department of Homeland Security, who sends the request for review.
According to Choudhury the redress process is "a sham."
All of the plaintiffs went through the redress program and received letters neither confirming nor denying their status on the watchlist, she said.
"The plaintiffs don't know how to fix whatever mistake or innuendo got them on the list."
The FBI screening center spokesman said he could not comment on the pending litigation or the constitutionality of the no-fly list, but pointed out the system was created under George W. Bush and retained by the Obama administration, with bipartisan support.
The ACLU lawsuit is filed against U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, FBI Director Robert Mueller and FBI screening center director Timothy Healy.
"Muslim Americans take on U.S. government in 'no-fly' lawsuit" NY Daily News May 11, 2012
Teresa Carson, "Muslim Americans challenge "no fly" list in appeals court" Reuters May 11, 2012
Reproduced with permission from Islam Today