A new report reveals that the FBI has been coercing Muslims living in the United States to spy on other Muslims by using the nation's no-fly list.
A lawsuit was filed on behalf of four men Tuesday in a federal court in New York. The suit accuses the United States of placing or keeping the men on the no-fly list after they refused to spy on others Muslims in New York, New Jersey, and Nebraska.
The no-fly list was created after the 9/11 attacks, and it restricts travel for certain individuals into and out of the United States—it is notoriously difficult for an individual to get off the list once they've been placed on it.
Joining The Takeaway to weigh in on the case is Professor Ramzi Kassem, who supervises the CLEAR Project at CUNY School of Law and is also representing the plaintiffs in this lawsuit with the Center for Constitutional Rights.
"Some of our clients were approached and the FBI attempted to recruit them as informants," says Kassem. "Our clients declined for religious and political reasons—those are First Amendment protected reasons. They declined to become informants and exercised their First Amendment rights. In retaliation for exercise of that right, the FBI placed them on the no-fly list."
Kassem adds that the FBI approached these individuals after they were placed on the no-fly list and expressly said they were added because they didn't, as he puts it, "play nice." Furthermore, the FBI said that these individuals could be taken off the list if they agreed to become informants, according to Kassem.
"There's very little that is known about the standards for which the U.S. government uses to administer the no-fly list," says Kassem. "The little that we do know publicly, one of the standards is for the person to be a known or suspected terrorist. Of course, we have no visibility into how the U.S. government interprets that standard, and then there's the larger question of whether they're even adhering to their own standard."
Kassem says that due the secrecy shrouding the no-fly list, there is no way for lawyers like himself, journalists, or others to verify if the FBI is upholding its own standards. Because of the secrecy around the no-fly list, some speculate that this case may be thrown out because it may require the government to disclose classified information—like the criteria for placing an individual on a no-fly list.
"We at CLEAR and our colleagues at the Center for Constitutional Rights have often litigated cases where the government comes into court and asserts so called national security interests," says Kassem. "I cannot emphasize enough that this is simply not a national security case. This is a case about fundamental civil rights, our clients' right to speech, association, and religion under the First Amendment. It's about our clients' rights to due process of law—the government should not be able to strip them of their freedom to travel without giving them notice an opportunity to be heard. That's what this case is about, it's not about security."
Kassem adds that his clients have never been accused of any crime and have no criminal records. The FBI has not responded to this lawsuit.