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Ninth Circuit Rules Against Ashcroft, Allows Wrongful Detention Suit to Go Forward

As Marcy Wheeler reported, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the lawsuit against John Ashcroft for wrongful detention can go forward. This pertains to the case of Abdullah al-Kidd, an American citizen who was arrested in March 2003 and detained for 15 days without charges before being released. The ACLU took up al-Kidd’s case and sued Ashcroft for wrongful detention. Here’s an excerpt of the ruling:

The facts alleged in al-Kidd’s complaint are chilling, and serve as a cautionary tale to law-abiding citizens of the United States who fear the excesses of a powerful national government, as did many members of the Founding Generation […]

On March 16, 2003, al-Kidd, bearing a round-trip ticket to Saudi Arabia, arrived at Dulles International Airport in Virginia. While al-Kidd was at the ticket counter, FBI agents handcuffed him, perp-walked him through the airport, and drove him to a police station, where he was placed in a holding cell. After being detained and questioned there for hours, al-Kidd was transferred to a detention center in Alexandria, Virginia.

For the next sixteen days, al-Kidd was detained in three different detention centers, one in Alexandria, one in Oklahoma, and one in Idaho. He was housed in high-security units within these facilities, which were the same units used to detain terrorists, and other persons charged with, or convicted of, other serious crimes. While at the Alexandria facility, al-Kidd was required to remain in a small cell where he ate his meals, except for one or two hours a day. He was strip-searched, denied visits by family, and denied requests to shower. Each time he was transferred to a new facility, he was shackled and accompanied by other prisoners who had been charged with, or convicted of, serious crimes. After sixteen days, “al-Kidd was ordered released, on the conditions that he live with his wife at his in-laws’ home in Nevada, limit his travel to Nevada and three other states, report regularly to a probation officer and consent to home visits throughout the period of supervision, and surrender his passport.”

Not too long after al-Kidd’s arrest and detention, in congressional testimony regarding the government’s efforts to fight terrorism, FBI Director Robert Mueller boasted that the government had charged over 200 “suspected terrorists” with crimes. Mueller then offered the names of five individuals as examples of the government’s recent successes. Four of those persons had been criminally charged with terrorism-related offenses; the other was al-Kidd.

Ashcroft will not have immunity for the case, and according to the ACLU “can be held personally liable” for the wrongful detention of al-Kidd. He misused the material witness statute in this case, and he should bear responsibility for that.

This Ashcroft case opens a crack into Bush Administration detention policy, and accountability therein. It will continue. The ACLU and other civil libertarian organizations like it will not stop.

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David Dayen

David Dayen

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