War & Peace
U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Damage Claim Against Ashcroft over Post- 9/11 Detention of American Citizens Without Charges or Evidence
The United States Supreme Court has ruled unanimously to throw out damage claims against Bush-era Attorney General John Ashcroft by an American Muslim who was arrested after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and held and abused for more than two weeks without any charges or sufficient evidence against him.
The Associated Press reports that the high court ruled 8-0 (Justice Elena Kagan recused herself from the case over a conflict of interest) in Ashcroft v. al-Kidd to dismiss the charges. Four justices, however, said the case raises “serious issues” about post-9/11 detentions that occurred under the material witness statute that compels witnesses to testify.
The justices ruled that Ashcroft is not personally liable for his role in the detention and mistreatment of Abdullah al-Kidd, an American-born Muslim arrested in 2003. Although al-Kidd was never charged with any crime nor called to testify in any terrorism-related trial, the justices decided that his case did not meet the stringent standards needed to sue a high-ranking government official.
“We hold… that Ashcroft did not violate al-Kidd’s Fourth Amendment rights,” the five-justice majority opinion, written by Antonin Scalia, read. All five of the justices that signed on to the majority opinion are Republican appointees.
Justice Anthony Kennedy stressed the narrowness of the ruling, adding that the case did not resolve how broadly the US government could apply the material witness statute.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor uttered what seems like muted objection, pointing out that there was no precedent of a case of unlawful arrests “involving prolonged detention of an individual without probable cause to believe he had committed any criminal offense.”
Abdullah al-Kidd is one of scores of Muslim men rounded up in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, DC. Al-Kidd, who was born in Kansas and was a football star at the University of Idaho, was on his way to Saudi Arabia where he taught English to university students when he was arrested at Washington-Dulles International Airport.
He was held for 16 days, during which time he was mistreated by his captors. He was repeatedly strip-searched and left naked in clear view of both men and women. He was also transported in shackles and housed with violent criminals.
No charges were ever pressed against him, nor was he ever called to testify as a material witness in any terrorism case.
In its sworn statement, the FBI failed to mention that al-Kidd had cooperated with them or that he and his wife and children were all American citizens.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg called al-Kidd’s ordeal “a grim reminder of the need to install safeguards against disrespect for human dignity, constraints that will control officialdom even in perilous times.”
But in the post-9/11 witch hunt atmosphere, then-Attorney General Ashcroft announced the Justice Department would round up and “preventively” detain anyone suspected of having terrorist connections, even if there was no evidence of wrongdoing.
The case was allowed to proceed by the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, which ruled that al-Kidd’s Fourth Amendment rights had been violated. According to the Associated Press, al-Kidd has already reached settlements with Virginia, Oklahoma and Idaho prison officials over his mistreatment. A federal judge in Oklahoma also ruled that his Fourth Amendment rights had been violated.
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