4 Muslim Men To Sue Feds Over No-Fly List

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They say they were placed on the list for refusing to inform on other Muslims. The suit is part of a broad wave of cases challenging the secretive no-fly list and U.S. counterterrorism strategies.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Here's the eternal debate in a free country: How to protect the nation while also protecting our rights.

INSKEEP: More than a dozen years after the 9/11 attacks, we are still debating who should be on security watch lists.

MONTAGNE: Today, four men with no criminal records are suing FBI and Homeland Security officials.

INSKEEP: They say they were put on the no-fly-list after refusing to act as informants on other Muslims.

NPR's Carrie Johnson reports.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: At 30 years old, Naveed Shinwari has spent more than half of his life on American soil, growing up in Omaha. But when he made a religious pilgrimage two years ago and then married a woman in his native country, Afghanistan, he got stopped in the airport on the way home and was directed to meet with FBI agents stationed overseas.

NAVEED SHINWARI: They wanted to know everything as far as my - about my life story, where I'd been in Afghanistan, and who did I have contact with, have I met any bad boys, in their own words - bad guys, sorry.

JOHNSON: Shinwari said the agents invited him to take a lie detector test and suggested he become an informant, snooping on people in his community. He says he rejected that idea. After lots of red tape and days of delay, Shinwari finally returned to the U.S., but he says the FBI visited him here at least three more times.

SHINWARI: They used specific sentences to say that, you know, you help us, we help you, and we offer financial incentives. But I refused again, and ever since then, I've been on the no-fly list.

JOHNSON: Susan Hu is one of his lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights.

SUSAN HU: You know, it's really hard to believe that our clients are actual threats to aviation security if the government is so willing to take them off the no-fly list as long as they cooperate.

JOHNSON: Unlike in criminal cases, where people get a chance to see and challenge the evidence against them, Hu says her clients on the no-fly list get no such options. That's why they're suing federal officials for breaching their client's First Amendment and due process rights.

DIALA SHAMAS: And my name is Diala Shamas, and I'm a staff attorney at the Clear Project.

JOHNSON: That's another group taking part in the lawsuit. Shamas says she hears from dozens of Muslims like Shinwari who tell similar stories.

SHAMAS: While this is just yet another aspect of the over-policing of Muslim communities, at the moment, it is something that is prone to abuse, and it becomes a slippery slope. And that's one of the reasons, I think, that we feel very strongly about challenging this policy.

JOHNSON: The FBI - which maintains the terror screening database - wouldn't comment about the lawsuit. But the Bureau's expected to put up an aggressive defense in the case, as it has in other legal fights over the no-fly list.

SHINWARI: American University law Professor Jennifer Daskal says the allegations in this case about FBI coercion - inform or be put on the no-fly list - are important.

JENNIFER DASKAL: If that is true, then it's incredibly important that courts step in and ensure that individuals are placed on the no-fly list based on the requisite criteria. And if it's not true, and if the allegations are false, then the government ought to be interested in making clear that the individuals that it is placing on the no-fly list meet the requisite criteria.

JOHNSON: Meanwhile, in Connecticut, where Shinwari's been living and working at a temp agency, he says he still has no idea why he's on that list. Shinwari says he has no ties to al-Qaida. He says he watched some religious videos, but nothing violent or dangerous. And he says his family overseas is getting frustrated.

SHINWARI: It's been 26 months and counting, Carrie, that I haven't seen my wife. I spent one month with her, and then I haven't seen her. My grandpa just passed away. I have extended family back home, and I wasn't able to see them. And till this day, it's - I don't have an answer for them when they ask me what's going on.

JOHNSON: Shinwari says he hopes this lawsuit will finally provide some answers.

Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.

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