A federal judge in Virginia allowed a legal challenge to the no-fly list to continue Wednesday, siding with a U.S. citizen who was not permitted to fly home from Kuwait for four days in 2011.
U.S. District Judge Anthony J. Trenga allowed the lawsuit by a young Somali American, Gulet Mohamed, to proceed to trial for a determination of how best to balance the government’s substantial interest in preventing terrorism with a citizen’s constitutional right to travel.
Inclusion on the no-fly list maintained by the Transportation Security Administration “labels an American citizen a disloyal American,” Trenga said.
"Placement on the no-fly list is life-defining and life-restricting across a broad range of constitutionally protected activities and aspirations and ... transforms a person into a second-class citizen, or worse,” the judge said.
Mohamed had gone to Yemen and Somalia, two countries whose terrorist connections tend to set off alarm bells with security officials, to study Arabic and Islam before moving on to Kuwait.
Kuwaiti authorities detained Mohamed, then 19, at the request of U.S. officials. He allegedly was beaten by the Kuwaitis, then questioned by FBI agents before the Kuwaiti government attempted to put him on a plane to Washington. He was prevented from flying for four days, until his family filed a lawsuit on his behalf.
When he arrived at Dulles International Airport, he was reunited with his family and allowed to go home. Although he has not been charged with a crime, he apparently remains on the list.
Trenga agreed with the U.S. government that Mohamed’s rights were not violated by the temporary delay in returning to the U.S. and dismissed that part of his complaint.
But he said Mohamed’s continued inclusion on the no-fly list and his assertion that he has no meaningful way to challenge the government’s decision were worthy of further proceedings.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based group that advocates for American Muslims and represents Mohamed, welcomed the judge’s ruling.
"We applaud this decision as a clear rebuke of the government's use of the no-fly list as applied to Americans," CAIR staff attorney Gadeir Abbas said.
Wyn Hornbuckle, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said it was reviewing the ruling.
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