Treasury Removes American From Terrorist List After 17 Years

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Date: 
November 11, 2012

An American citizen living in the U.S. who was designated as a terrorist by the Department of Treasury in 1995 was taken off the terrorist list on Nov. 5, 2012.  A notice on the Department of Treasury’s website said that Muhammad A. Salah, a Chicago area resident, had been removed from its “Specially Designated Terrorist” list, but offered no reason for the move.  Salah was designated pursuant to economic sanctions laws, which do not provide notice of the reasons for the action or a meaningful opportunity to appeal.  Several civil liberties groups had filed a lawsuit against the government in September 2012 challenging his designation is unconstitutional.  

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the removal notice came on the eve of a deadline for the Treasury Department to file an answer to the lawsuit. “The fact that the government folded so quickly on this speaks volumes to the unconstitutionality of this treatment,” said Georgetown University law professor David Cole, who worked on the case with the Center for Constitutional Rights. “It took the filing of a federal lawsuit to force the government to confront the validity of its own actions.”

The economic sanctions imposed on groups and people put on the terrorist list prohibit any U.S. person from engaging in any economic transaction with those on the list.  As a result, Salah was unable to get a job, pay rent, or obtain medical care without approval from the Treasury Department.  He was also unable to meet his religious obligations such as donating to mosques or charities without fear of running afoul of the law.  

"Mr. Salah has been made to suffer in a manner that is contrary to our constitutional principles and completely unjustified by anything he has ever been accused of, let alone found to have done," Matthew Piers, one of the attorneys for Salah, said. "Justice has now been done, but it comes very late in the day."

The sanctions imposed on Salah were similar to ones used against charities the government accuses of financially supporting terrorism. In two cases (Kindhearts & Al-Haramian), however, federal courts have ruled that the Treasury process for listing or shutting down charities is constitutionally deficient. 

“A designated person has the option to, at any time, seek administrative reconsideration of the designation. Mr. Salah chose not to avail himself of that process and instead filed suit against OFAC to be delisted,” a Treasury spokesman told The Hill. Adding, “In evaluating its response to Mr. Salah's complaint, [the Office of Foreign Asset Controls] determined that it was appropriate to remove Mr. Salah from the list of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons based on current circumstances ... As a result, any property that was blocked solely as a result of Mr. Salah's designation pursuant to E.O. 12947 is now unblocked, and U.S. persons may engage in all lawful transactions with him.”

According to the Chicago Tribune, Salah and his attorneys are still deciding whether to continue the lawsuit.  In addition to having him removed from the terrorist list, the lawsuit sought financial compensation and legal fees from the government and would have to be amended if it were to continue.