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Judge orders changes to US terror watchlist

Published:Saturday | December 28, 2019 | 12:18 AM


A federal judge is ordering the Washington government to make changes to its watchlist of more than one million people whose inclusion marks them as known or suspected terrorists, but for now he is giving the United States government latitude to propose the changes as it sees fit.

The order issued last week by US District Judge Anthony Trenga in Alexandria falls short of what a Muslim civil-rights group had hoped for when it won a ruling earlier this year that the secret list violates the constitutional rights of those placed on it.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations had asked Trenga to order specific, sweeping changes to the way the government places names on the list and providing a meaningful opportunity for those wrongly included to clear their names.

Instead, Trenga simply told the government to craft its own remedies to bring the list into compliance and to submit those proposals to him for review.

Trenga ordered the government to provide him a status report on its proposed revisions by early February.

Gadeir Abbas, a lawyer for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said he has little hope that the government will on its own propose any meaningful changes.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt the government is going to take a cynical approach to any type of watchlist revision,” he said in a phone interview. “We expect the government will be focused on maintaining its illegal programme.”

Still, he said, Trenga’s ruling holds some bright spots. Trenga indicated he will review the government’s proposals to gauge whether they fix the specific due-process problems he outlined earlier in the year: that the government refuses to confirm whether individuals are on the watchlist, that those on the list lack an opportunity to rebut the negative information that led to their inclusion, and that if they request a review of their status they are unable to learn its outcome or make any meaningful appeal.

The watchlist, also known as the Terrorist Screening Database, is maintained by the FBI and shared with a variety of federal agencies.