CAIR Declares ‘Complete Victory’ After Judge Rules Terror Watchlist Violates Constitutional Rights

Patrick Goodenough | September 5, 2019 | 4:33am EDT
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Council on American-Islamic Relations executive director Nihad Awad. (Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

( – The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has hailed as a “complete victory” a federal judge’s ruling that the U.S. government’s watchlist of “known or suspected terrorists” violates the constitutional rights of Americans named on it.

Judge Anthony Trenga of the Eastern District of Virginia ruled Wednesday that the FBI-administered watchlist, formally known as the Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB), “fails to provide constitutionally sufficient procedural due process.”

He has yet to order any remedies, but called for additional legal briefs from the parties within 30 days on “the outstanding issues to be resolved in this matter.”

The case was brought with CAIR’s help on behalf of 23 American Muslims who, in its words, “were unjustly labeled as suspected terrorists by their government, causing extensive harm to their families, careers, and ability to travel.”

CAIR, which calls itself the nation’s biggest Muslim civil rights and advocacy group, plans a press conference at noon on Thursday “to outline the practical and constitutional implications” of the ruling.

Being listed on the TSDB does not in itself prevent a person from being allowed to fly – a consequence of being on the separate “no-fly list,” comprising a small subset of the broader TSDB – but, Trenga wrote, “does trigger a variety of other consequences, including restrictions on an individual’s ability to travel.”

Over the summer Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), together with nine other House Democrats, wrote to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, requesting information about how information from the TSDB is shared with foreign governments, including regimes with poor human rights records such as Saudi Arabia and China.

“In our oversight role as Members of Congress, we are entitled to information as to which countries receive this sensitive and classified information about American citizens, many of whom have never been charged, arrested, or convicted of a crime,” they wrote.

The lawmakers asked Pompeo to provide specific information about the TSDB within 90 days, including: which countries get the data; what standards exist to determine whether the data is shared with foreign governments; whether foreign countries’ human rights records are taken into account when making decisions on whether to share the information; and how and whether a data-sharing agreement can be rescinded once it has been put in place.

CAIR at the time praised the lawmakers for the initiative, with national executive director Nihad Awad saying that the TSDB was “dangerous enough” in itself, but even more so when shared with “tyrannical regimes.”

“Congress and the public ought to know which foreign governments receive the watchlist and what has been done to people targeted by a watchlisting system that now spans the globe,” Awad said. “CAIR applauds this oversight.”

Several weeks after that letter was sent, the House of Representatives adopted an Omar-authored amendment to the Intelligence Authorization Act, requiring the Secretary of State and Director of National Intelligence to submit a report to Congress within 180 days, essentially providing the same information which the 11 lawmakers had requested from Pompeo in their letter.

The House passed the Intelligence Authorization Act on July 17, by 397 votes to 31.

Most of those listed on the TSDB are foreign citizens. According to documents lodged in the case before Trenga, out of the roughly 1.16 million individuals on the list in 2017, 4,460 were U.S. nationals or U.S. lawful permanent residents.

Established by President George W. Bush in 2003 in response to 9/11, the TSDB is described by the FBI as “a single database that contains sensitive national security and law enforcement information concerning the identities of those who are known or reasonably suspected of being involved in terrorist activities.”


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