ACLUs Across the U.S. File Federal Suit to Stop Airport Harassment

June 19, 2006

DETROIT - The American Civil Liberties Unions of Michigan, Massachusetts and Washington today filed an amended complaint to a lawsuit previously filed by the ACLU of Illinois which calls on the federal government to reform its screening center procedures that are responsible for the detention and harassment of U.S. citizens upon re-entry into the United States at a multitude of airports and border crossings. The case is pending in federal court in Chicago.

The lawsuit contends that its nine plaintiffs have been repeatedly subjected to lengthy stops, body searches and often times the use of excessive force when returning to the United States after traveling abroad and that the federal government must implement changes to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Terrorist Screening Center and the policies of Customs and Border Protection to ensure that innocent Americans are not subjected to unnecessary detentions and harassment.

“Our number one priority is always security and safety, however, no innocent American should have to endure the humiliation of being arbitrarily detained repeatedly and for extensive periods of time because of a system that was poorly conceived,” said Kary L. Moss, Executive Director of the ACLU of Michigan.

According to the lawsuit, the plaintiffs represent thousands of individuals who are stopped, questioned, abused and harassed at points of entry each year action that results from flaws in the federal government’s Terrorism Screening Center (TSC).

One such plaintiff is Dr. Elie Ramzi Khoury, who has been in the U.S. since 1966, a resident of Beverly Hills, Mich. The 68-year-old OB/GYN is an American citizen and often travels with his wife, Farideh. Dr. Khoury and his wife have been detained by CBP officers on seven different occasions since May 2002. On these occasions, Dr. Khoury and his wife have been separated and questioned extensively and every detention, but one, has included a full search.

For instance, in November of 2002, the Khourys were stopped at Los Angeles International Airport for at least two hours where they were both searched. CBP officers asked to copy every page of an Arab language book they were carrying. In addition, CBP employees insisted on accompanying Dr. Khoury to the bathroom and visiually observing him as he urinated. In February 2005, the Khourys entered the United States at Chicago O’Hare International Airport with their daughter, son-in-law and two of their young grandchildren. As CBP officers led the Khourys away, their frightened grandchildren stood by crying.

“I have been a U.S. citizen for 43 years. I believe in this country and I believe in the opportunities that it has given me,” said Dr. Khoury. “But I do not believe in this unusual and selective treatment and I don’t think this is what America stands for. They have told me this is mistaken identity and I am told it will be fixed, but it has happened 7 times and the government doesn’t seem to want to change anything.”

The lawsuit identifies two major flaws in the current system, which even a U.S. Department of Justice report identifies. The first is that the process for classifying these individuals is flawed and results in many individuals being considered dangerous when they pose no real threat to our nation. Second, mistakes in the database operated by the TSC cause many individuals to be “misidentified,” and subject to more scrutiny than is necessary.

As a result of these two problems, the plaintiffs in today’s lawsuit collectively have been stopped and questioned on more than thirty (30) occasions. None have ever been charged with a criminal act or been the subject of any indictment or action related to a terrorism investigation.

In addition to the Khourys, the ACLU plaintiffs represented today include: M. Akifur Rahman of suburban Chicago and his wife Masooda and children Zakareeya and Nurah; Niaz Anwar of suburban Boston; Khalid Bhatti, a physician in gastroenterology in Troy, New York; Shimrote Ishaque, a pharmacist in Seattle, Washington; Osama Jammal, an educational video producer from suburban Chicago; and Dr. Sammy Rehman, a radiologist, and his wife Riffat Mehmood of suburban Chicago.

Roger Pascall, Everett Cygal, Paula Ketcham, and Joshua Lee of the Chicago law firm Schiff Hardin LLP are assisting the ACLU of Illinois in this case, along with Junaid M. Afeef of Hoffman Estates, Sarah Wunsch of the ACLU Foundation of Massachusetts, Kary Moss and Michael Steinberg of the ACLU Fund of Michigan, Noel Salah of Detroit and Aaron H. Caplan of the ACLU of Washington in Seattle.

To read the complaint, go to:
http://aclumich.org/sites/default/files/file/attachments/SECONDAMENDEDCOMPLAINT-6-19-06-FINAL.PDF

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