The Supreme Court ruled last year that former Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft,… (Cliff Owen / Associated…)
In the aftermath of 9/11, the federal government allowed its anxiety about possible future attacks to overwhelm its commitment to due process and the rule of law. An early manifestation of that overreaction was the rounding up of Arab and Muslim men on the pretext of holding them as potential witnesses at the trials of others.
One victim of that policy was Abdullah Kidd, who was known as Lavoni Kidd when he played football for the University of Idaho. A convert to Islam, Kidd was arrested in 2003 at Dulles International Airport as he was preparing to board a flight to Saudi Arabia and then shuttled between detention facilities under the pretext of securing his appearance at the future trial of an associate being investigated for visa fraud and possible ties to terrorism. After two weeks in custody, during which he says he was strip-searched and routinely shackled, Kidd was released but deprived of his passport and subjected to limitations on his travel. In 2004, a court lifted the restrictions and dismissed Kidd as a material witness. He was never called to testify.
Last year, the Supreme Court blocked Kidd's lawsuit against former Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft, ruling that under the 4th Amendment an "improper motive" on the part of those who arrested him didn't invalidate a warrant that had been secured from a neutral magistrate. But now a federal district court in Idaho has ruled in favor of Kidd's complaint against one of two FBI agents who applied for the material-witness warrant. It also granted summary judgment to Kidd on his claim that the federal government subjected him to false imprisonment.
U.S. District Judge Edward J. Lodge ruled that the affidavit submitted by the FBI to obtain the warrant "evidences a reckless disregard for the truth." For example, it falsely said that Kidd had purchased a one-way ticket to Saudi Arabia and neglected to mention that he was a U.S. citizen with a wife and son in this country and that he had cooperated with the FBI in the past.
Perhaps most important, Lodge's ruling sets the stage for a trial — on legal grounds different from those at issue in the Ashcroft case — on whether the material-witness statute was misused to detain individuals for whom there was not "probable cause" to suggest that they themselves had committed a crime. Lodge's ruling makes it clear that "circumstantial evidence" suggests Kidd may have been detained for reasons other than securing his testimony at trial.
In addition to his physical ordeal, Kidd suffered a grievous loss of reputation. Instead of appealing the ruling in Kidd's favor, the Obama administration should agree to a settlement that would compensate him for indefensible mistreatment.