A former Air Force officer will be one of 10 plaintiffs included in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union today against the U.S. government challenging the country's no-fly list.
Steve Washburn, 55, an American citizen, learned he was placed on the no-fly list when he and his wife attempted to fly home to New Mexico from Dublin, Ireland.
"When we went to board the plane they told me 'I'm sorry, we can't let you get on the plane. You're on the U.S. no-fly terrorist watch list,'" said Washburn. Now Washburn – who made it home after a carefully scripted 72 hour journey through Germany, Brazil, Peru and Mexico to avoid U.S. airspace - and others are a part of the ACLU lawsuit that charges the government of violating their constitutional rights.
The suit names Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III and Timothy J. Healy, the director of the Terrorist Screening Center as defendants.
It contends "The Constitution does not permit such a fundamental deprivation of rights to be carried out under a veil of secrecy and in the absence of even rudimentary process."
It goes on to say "…no government official or agency has offered any explanation for Plaintiff's apparent placement on the No Fly List or any other watch list. Nor has any government official or agency offered any of the Plaintiffs any meaningful opportunity to contest his or her placement on such a list."
"This is profoundly un-American," said Ben Wizner, a staff attorney at the ACLU's National Security Project. "People who are protected by the Constitution have a right to fundamental due process. If the United States government is going to maintain a watch list and prevent people from flying, there has to be some way for people to confront the evidence against them and rebut it."
Individuals on the no-fly list are prevented from boarding flights that enter or depart the U.S. or that fly over U.S. airspace.
A spokesman for the Terrorist Screening Center declined to comment on any of the cases presented in the lawsuit. In an email statement he said, "…the FBI is carefully to protect the civil rights and privacy concerns of all Americans," and directed ABC News to public testimony given by Director Healy at a recent congressional hearing.
In a March 10 Congressional hearing, Healy said, "….these people are identified by fragments of information. They're identified by a source saying, 'this guy's involved in it. So it's not a black and white system." He went on to say "It's a balancing act between civil liberties and the protection of the American people."
Prior to the Christmas day bombing attempt of an American passenger plan, U.S. officials said there were approximately 4,000 individuals on the no-fly list. That number is now believed to be nearly 8,000.
Steve Washburn, 55, a former Air Force officer, was stuck on Emerald Isle for three months, unable to return home until last month, because he appeared on the no fly list. He worked as a security expert in Saudi Arabia but wanted to return home with his wife in February after a brief visit in Ireland with his stepdaughter and new grandchild.
Washburn said he was halted from boarding a direct flight from Dublin to the U.S. in February.