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Federal Judge Rules Government Violated Rights Of 13 On No-Fly List

By Timothy M. Phelps and Michael Muskal, Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON — An Oregon federal judge ruled Tuesday that international air travel is a “sacred” liberty protected by the U.S. Constitution and ordered the government to amend its rules governing the so-called no-fly list, which seeks to prevent suspected terrorists from boarding airlines.

In the first such ruling of its kind, U.S. District Judge Anna J. Brown in Portland said “international travel is not a mere convenience or luxury in this modern world. Indeed, for many, international travel is a necessary aspect of liberties sacred to members of a free society.”

Therefore, she said, the government must change its procedures to allow U.S. citizens who find themselves on the no-fly list to challenge the designation.

She ordered the government to come up with new procedures that protect citizens’ due-process rights without jeopardizing national security. Passengers must be given notice of their inclusion on the list and a rationale for the designation and be allowed to submit evidence to challenge it, Brown said.

Justice Department spokeswoman Dena Iverson said government lawyers were reviewing the decision, and declined to comment further.

Previously the government has argued that because other modes of travel on land and sea are available, there is no right to travel by air and no need to change the no-fly list procedures.

“Such an argument ignores the numerous reasons that an individual may have for wanting or needing to travel overseas quickly, such as the birth of a child, the death of a loved one, a business opportunity or a religious obligation,” Brown wrote. “A prohibition on flying turns routine international travel into an odyssey that imposes significant logistical, economic and physical demands on travelers.”

Federal investigators currently may include someone on the no-fly list based on a “reasonable suspicion” that an individual is a known or suspected terrorist. They do not routinely tell would-be passengers they are on the list or give any factual reason for the designation. The list, established after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, includes about 20,000 names, about 500 of them U.S. citizens.

A person who is denied the right to fly can challenge such a designation with the Department of Homeland Security. If the agency determines the inclusion is appropriate, the individual may seek to overturn the decision in federal court. The court reviews the government’s rationale but does not share the information with the concerned individual.

U.S. officials say the list is necessary to prevent hijackings and terrorist attacks. But Brown ruled that the current DHS redress process had a high risk of depriving some innocent individuals of their “protected interests.”

In the lawsuit, 13 Muslim American plaintiffs, four of them veterans of the U.S. military, denied having any links to terrorism and said they learned of their no-fly status when they arrived at an airport and were blocked from boarding a plane.

The national ACLU, along with its affiliates in Oregon, California and New Mexico, filed the lawsuit in June 2010. It was dismissed by the District Court, but in July 2012, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal on jurisdictional grounds, allowing the lower court to consider the case.

One of the plaintiffs is Stephen D. Persaud of Irvine, Calif., who in 2010 was not allowed to fly home from the Virgin Islands unless he cooperated by giving information to an FBI agent. He eventually returned home by boat and train for the birth of his second child, but says he cannot fly to Saudi Arabia for the annual Hajj pilgrimage made by Muslims.

Another plaintiff is Raymond E. Knaeble IV, an army veteran from Chicago, who was barred from flying home in 2010 after flying to Bogota, Colombia, to marry his wife. He says he lost a job offer as a result. He eventually returned to the U.S. in a 12-day journey from Colombia to Panama City to California.

Sheik Mohamed Abdirahman Kariye, imam of Portland’s largest mosque, is also a plaintiff.

“Finally I will be able to challenge whatever incorrect information the government has been using to stigmatize me and keep me from flying,” Kariye said in a statement. “I have been prevented by the government from traveling to visit my family members and fulfill religious obligations for years, and it has had a devastating impact on all of us.”

Shyb via Flickr

Senate Finds CIA Illegally Interrogated Terror Suspects After Sept. 11

By Ali Watkins, Marisa Taylor and David Lightman, McClatchy Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — CIA officers subjected some terrorism suspects it held after the Sept. 11 attacks to interrogation methods that were not approved by either the Justice Department or their own headquarters and illegally detained 26 of the 119 in CIA custody, the Senate Intelligence Committee has concluded in its still-secret report, McClatchy has learned.

The spy agency program’s reliance on brutal techniques — much more abusive than previously known — and its failure to gather valuable information from the detainees harmed the United States’ credibility internationally, according to the committee’s findings in its scathing 6,300-page report on the CIA’s interrogation and detention program.

The agency also repeatedly misled the Justice Department while stymieing Congress’ and the White House’s efforts to oversee the secret and now-defunct program, McClatchy has learned.

In all, the committee came to 20 conclusions about the CIA’s harsh interrogation tactics after spending six years and $40 million evaluating the controversial program. Its report is expected to be sent Thursday to the White House and CIA for eventual public release.

The committee’s other findings included:

—Critics inside the agency were cut out of the debate over the program or ignored, and the news media were manipulated with leaks that tended to blunt criticism of the agency.

—While the CIA’s high-level officials mismanaged the program, interrogators who crossed the line into abusive behavior went unpunished.

—Even six months after the spy agency received the legal authority to proceed, its officers remained unprepared for interrogating detainees.

The committee voted 11-3 on Thursday to recommend that the key findings and a summary of the report be declassified. The document now goes to President Barack Obama, who’s said he supports declassifying the findings. Most of the report and the underlying CIA documents might remain secret, however.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama “would expect that the actions that are necessary to declassify a document like that be conducted in all due haste, and I think he would make that clear to the agencies involved in that effort and the individuals involved in that effort.”

The bipartisan vote masked deep divisions between Democratic and Republican members of the committee. While both wanted the material declassified, they were at odds over the value of the material. The CIA has rejected some of the findings and has written a still-secret rebuttal.

“This report is totally biased,” said Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK).

Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), said Republicans were in “opposition to the content” and would write a separate reaction.

Republicans wouldn’t discuss the nature of their objections, but they agreed with Coburn, who said, “It’s not an accurate representation of the facts.”

He charged: “There’s no context, and without context you don’t get an accurate assessment of what’s happening. It doesn’t mean that everything they did was right.”

Republicans also were upset at how the report was written and researched. Republican committee staffers weren’t consulted and key officials were not interviewed.

“This was not produced in a bipartisan fashion. That’s a weakness of the report,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME). Relying only on documents, she said, “can’t tell the whole story.”

The question remained how much of the secret report would be divulged because the White House and the CIA might decide to release or withhold different portions. It’s also unclear how long the final decision would take, with some experts predicting months.

In March, McClatchy reported that the CIA Inspector General’s Office had asked the Justice Department to investigate allegations that the CIA had monitored the committee staff’s work.

cliff1066 via Flickr