Lawyers for a Chicago-area resident on the government’s terrorist list filed a civil lawsuit on Sept. 5, 2012 challenging his inclusion on the list saying he has been living under an “unprecedented embargo” for the past 17 years. Muhammad A. Salah, a U.S. citizen, was added to the “Specially Designated Terrorist” list by the Department of Treasury in 1995, effectively barring most Americans from engaging in financial transactions with him and his wife. According to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago, Treasury imposed the sanctions without a “hearing, no opportunity to respond, and no statement of reasons” and there “is no endpoint to the designation and its restrictions.” Salah is believed to be the only person in the U.S. with such a designation.

The sanctions imposed on Salah are 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 current Treasury process for listing or shutting down charities is constitutionally deficient.
“Under the restrictions, which bar virtually all economic transactions, even those necessary for survival, Muhammad Salah is not permitted to get a job, pay rent or a mortgage, pay for his children’s education, obtain medical care or even buy a loaf of bread without first obtaining approval from the Treasury Department,” according to a press release issued by his attorneys.  The restrictions imposed on him also prohibit him from meeting his religious obligations such as donating to mosques or charities.
Salah has been granted temporary licenses by Treasury authorizing him to get a job, open bank accounts and pay for essential goods and services, the suit said, but the restrictions have made finding a job and maintaining a bank account nearly impossible. One bank closed his account in May 2004, stating, “The maintenance and regulatory requirements associated with [your] account . . . far exceeds any benefit to Bridgeview Bank Group.” He has been unable to open a bank account since.
Not only does the terrorist label impose severe restrictions on Salah, but it also restricts other groups from advocating on his behalf without fear of breaking the law. Two groups who joined the lawsuit to challenge Salah’s terrorist listing, The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), issued a press release on Sept. 5 saying the designation makes it a crime for these groups “even to speak out in coordination with Mr. Salah to object to his treatment.”
  • “The organizations are concerned that the government’s treatment of Salah amounts to unnecessarily sweeping and arbitrary punitive actions that are an egregious affront to the basic values of justice, but AFSC and ADC are restricted in their ability to so advocate in coordination with Salah by the very breadth of the government’s restrictions.”

Salah had been imprisoned in Israel for over four years after Israeli police found $95,000 in his apartment, which said was intended to support terrorism. In February 2007, Salah was acquitted of taking part in a racketeering conspiracy aimed at supporting Hamas, but found guilty of obstruction of justice for lying under oath on a questionnaire in a lawsuit over the fatal shooting of American teenager David Boim in Israel in 1996. He was sentenced in July 2007 to 21 months in federal prison and fined $25,000.