Court orders feds to reveal reasons for detaining travelers

April 24, 2008 4:34:23 PM PDT
For the last several years, west suburban businessman Akif Rahman has been fighting to find out if his name is on a government terror watch list. He sees a ruling by a federal magistrate in Chicago as a victory in that fight.

The government declines to explain the specific criteria under which a name is added to the terrorist watch list. And for those who believe they are mistakenly on the list, getting removed from it is a frustrating, time-consuming and quite often an unsuccessful effort. The government says discussing any specifics would expose state secrets, but this new ruling may wind up narrowing when the government can use that term.

Rahman was born in Springfield, Illinois. He is a husband and father and runs a successful technology consulting firm in the west suburbs. When he returns to the U.S. after out-of-country business or family vacations, he's been frequently detained - once for six hours. He's been handcuffed. He's been asked if he's sympathetic to terrorist causes.

"I've missed flights. I don't know how long it's gonna be, whether I'm going to be questioned and really what's going to happen," said Rahman.

Rahman presumes he's on a watch list, but the government's never confirmed that, saying it's a state secret. So Rahman and nine others filed suit, and now a federal magistrate in Chicago has ruled that the government must tell those ten people whether they are or are not on the watch list.

"This is definitely one judge's attempt to tell the government that you can't - by claiming state secret privilege - that you can do this to people, detain them for no reason without at least having to justify it," said Prof. Leonard Cavise, DePaul School of Law.

The order does not allow Rahman and the others to directly see any investigative files on them. The magistrate wrote that those materials qualify for protection. But the judge wants to see the files and determine if there really are state secrets at stake.

By some estimates, there are 300,000 people on the government's terrorist watch list. This ruling applies only to ten people, but it could become a template for larger challenges to names on the list.

"What we need after years and years of this not working, is for a judge to step in and order a solution," said Adam Schwartz, American Civil Liberties Union.

"My hope is if they are on such a list that they have a way of getting off that list and getting the situation resolved," said Rahman.

For Rahman and the nine others, the government was to turn over to the court the investigative files on them by the end of this month. The government has asked for more time and will likely appeal the magistrate's decision.

The ruling by Judge Sidney Schenkier came after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in 2005 alleging several instances of unreasonable confinement of Rahman and nine others.

Rahman's problems began in spring 2004, when he was detained for two hours at Los Angeles International Airport.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Load Comments