PORTLAND, Oregon (Reuters) - Lawyers for 15 Muslims in the United States placed on a U.S. “no-fly” list barring them from commercial air travel asked a federal appeals court on Friday to reinstate their constitutional challenge of the anti-terrorism measure.
The plaintiffs, who are U.S. citizens or permanent legal residents, said they learned of their “no-fly” status when they were blocked from boarding a commercial flight without prior notice, and were later denied any effective means of petitioning the government to be removed from the list.
“The government has created this secret list and the people on the list have no way of defending themselves,” Nusrat Choudhury, an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawyer who is representing the group, said before the hearing. The group originally filed its lawsuit against the U.S. government in June 2010.
The “no-fly” list, established in 2003 and administered by the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, includes some 20,000 people identified by the agency as known to have or reasonably suspected of having ties to terrorism. About 500 of them are U.S. citizens, according to an agency spokesman.
The plaintiffs, who are residents of Oregon and other states and include four veterans of the U.S. armed forces, deny any links to terrorism. “None of the plaintiffs pose any threat to airline security,” Choudhury said.
Their suit argues that the government violated their constitutional rights to due process and the U.S. Administrative Procedures Act by failing to provide notice or the reasons for their inclusion on the list and any procedure for contesting that status.
The ACLU is seeking to remove the plaintiffs’ names from the list immediately or allow them an opportunity to clear their names.
A U.S. district court judge in Portland, Oregon, dismissed their suit, ruling the court lacked jurisdiction over the matter.
The ACLU appealed that decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and the three-judge panel heard arguments from both sides during Friday’s hourlong hearing to decide proper legal venue for the case. A ruling will be issued later.
The no-fly restriction has kept the 15 plaintiffs in this case from visiting family and traveling for work or study, the suit said. Several said they apparently were added to the list while traveling abroad, where they ended up stranded as a result.
The suit was originally filed in Portland because only one plaintiff - Mohamed Kariye, an imam at a large Portland mosque - was in the United States at the time. He has been prevented from leaving the country to visit his daughter in Dubai or other relatives in Somalia.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, FBI Director Robert Mueller and Timothy Healy, director of the Terrorist Screening Center, are defendants in the suit.
The government argues that there is already an adequate process in place for contesting an individual’s inclusion on the list, and that all the plaintiffs have used it. The government also has said none were permanently stranded in a foreign country.
But the ACLU says the procedure for seeking to clear one’s name amounts to window dressing - those wishing to question or challenge their no-fly status are directed to a fill out an online form but they receive no actual explanation in return.
Editing by Steve Gorman and Bill Trott