Statement of David C. Fathi

April 6, 2004

ACLU "No-Fly" Lawsuit

No-Fly Lawsuit: Fathi

David C. Fathi
Age: 41
Nationality: U.S. Citizen
Occupation: Senior Staff Counsel, ACLU National Prison Project

As a civil liberties lawyer, I am usually on the other side of the table when it comes to filing cases. But today, I am here as a plaintiff in the ACLU's challenge to the No-Fly list because I have repeatedly been delayed, detained, interrogated, and searched by airport personnel. On one particularly unpleasant occasion, I was led away by police and detained until the FBI verified that I was not a terrorist.

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I am more familiar than most with the meaning of ""innocent until proven guilty,"" but try explaining that to your fellow airline passengers after you have been stopped, searched and interrogated in front of them. And try telling that to the airline personnel who repeatedly stop me because I am on the No-Fly list. Even after obtaining a letter from the Transportation Security Administration stating that my identity had been verified, I am still subject to delays, enhanced searches, detentions, and other travel impediments, all due to the No-Fly list.

Why am I on this list? I don't know, and that's one of the questions I hope this lawsuit will answer. It could be because my surname is Iranian, although I was born in the United States and have been a U.S. citizen my entire life. But with more than one million Iranians living in the United States -- many of whom fled persecution at the hands of the Islamic fundamentalist regime -- that certainly isn't a good reason. It could be because I was arrested for peaceful civil disobedience activity over 10 years ago, but that's certainly not terrorist activity, and hundreds if not thousands of people are arrested for civil disobedience every year. It could be because someone thinks I ""look"" Middle Eastern -- but that's not a good reason either.

In short, I have come to believe that I am on the No-Fly list for all the wrong reasons. That might even be acceptable if there were a clear procedure for getting off the list. But there is not. What is most disturbing to me about all this is that my name is on a government watch list and I have been singled out as some kind of suspect, but the government won't tell me why, and won't tell me what I can do to clear my name.

And it's frightening not knowing what other difficulties I will encounter as a result of being on the No-Fly list. I had almost habituated myself to being detained and interrogated when I fly, until recently I experienced a new variation: I was threatened by customs officials with indefinite detention when trying to come home from vacation.  When the government starts singling you out for negative treatment, it's hard to know where it's going to stop.

Nonetheless, I intend to keep on flying, and I intend to do everything I can to safeguard my rights and the rights of my fellow airline passengers. As a civil liberties lawyer -- and as an American -- I can do no less.

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