In April 2021, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the ACLU of D.C. filed a lawsuit on behalf of a Michigan man that the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) placed on a no-fly list because he refused to become an informant.
According to the lawsuit, in August 2018, the FBI started to target Ahmad Chebli, a U.S. born citizen who grew up and has an educational background in Lebanon and now lives in Dearborn, Michigan. The compliant states that the FBI coerced him to work as an informant because of his “language skills, Lebanese background, and technical expertise as an engineer.”Chebli would help the FBI locate suspects in his community that are attempting to harm the United States. The agents focused their questioning on his educational background and life in Lebanon, political and religious beliefs. Chebli did not want any involvement with the FBI, but they were persistent.
The FBI allegedly engaged in coercive tactics such as intense surveillance and accused him of being part of the terrorist group Hezbollah, which he denies any involvement. The FBI proceeded to place him on the no-fly list. By placing Chebli on the list, he loses his ability to travel domestically and internationally, and is denied government benefits.
Chebli challenged the no-fly list claim, and the government did not give a reason for his placement on the list.
The no-fly list is often criticized for its vague standards and often used in a discriminatory manner to target Muslims and those from Arab and Middle Eastern descents.
Chebli’s case is one of many lawsuits that challenge the legality of the no-fly list. In 2014, the ACLU filed a lawsuit that challenged the protocol for placement on the no-fly list. The federal court in Oregon ruled that the no-fly list regulations violate the Fifth Amendment rights and right to due process.
In contrast, a federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., concurred with the government’s use of the Terrorist Screen Database, a less restrictive version of the no-fly list. This database contains 1.2 million people, 4,600 of which are U.S. citizens.
In December, the U.S. Supreme Court heard a case on a matter related to the no-fly list. The case involved three Muslim-American men placed on the no-fly list as retaliation for refusing to become informants. The judges unanimously ruled in favor of the three men.
The suits over the no-fly list exemplify how the U.S. government and courts balance national security restrictions against fundamental rights set forth in its Constitution and international human rights laws. The great bulk of persons on the no-fly list are aliens, to which the U.S. courts have excepted from the protection of most of the Bill of Rights. However, Chebli and other persons targeted have been U.S. citizens and green card holders.
The next issue of the IELR will have a more comprehensive discussion of these matters.