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Intro: "A US citizen argued his detention was a deliberate misuse by former Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft of a statute intended to compel witness testimony. But the high court ruled Ashcroft couldn't be liable."

Then-Attorney General John Ashcroft reports to Congress in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, 09/24/01. (photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Then-Attorney General John Ashcroft reports to Congress in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, 09/24/01. (photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)



Supreme Court: The Ashcroft Immunity

By Los Angeles Times | Editorial

12 June 11

 

A US citizen argued his detention was a deliberate misuse by former Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft of a statute intended to compel witness testimony. But the high court ruled Ashcroft couldn't be liable.

ot for the first time, the Supreme Court has refused to hold high government officials responsible for outrageous abuses of human rights. Late last month, the court rejected a lawsuit against former Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft by a US citizen who was unfairly imprisoned and mistreated under the pretense of securing his appearance as a witness.

Abdullah Kidd, a convert to Islam who was known as Lavoni Kidd when he played football for the University of Idaho, claimed that Ashcroft had authorized a policy of using the material witness statute - designed to ensure the presence of witnesses at trial - as a way of holding suspected terrorists when there was no probable cause to do so.

Kidd was detained at Dulles International Airport in 2003 as he prepared to fly to Saudi Arabia to study. Supposedly the FBI feared that he wouldn't appear at the trial of an acquaintance suspected of visa fraud and terrorism. But in seeking the material witness warrant, FBI agents falsely said that Kidd had purchased a one-way ticket and omitted the fact that he was a US citizen who had cooperated with the bureau in the past.

Kidd was handcuffed and shackled and held for two weeks before being released on the condition that he live with his wife and in-laws and report to a probation officer. Even then, he was deprived of his passport and subjected to limitations on his travel. The restrictions were lifted in 2004, but he was never called to testify at his acquaintance's trial.

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Ashcroft couldn't be held personally liable for Kidd's mistreatment. In the majority opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia emphasized that the warrant to arrest Kidd was "objectively reasonable" and had been properly obtained from a magistrate. The warrant couldn't be challenged, he said, "on the basis of allegations that the arresting authority had an improper motive." Scalia also found that Ashcroft didn't disregard clearly established law, another requirement for stripping a public official of immunity.

Providing some consolation for Kidd, four justices noted that the court didn't say the treatment of Kidd was legal, merely that Ashcroft couldn't be sued as an individual. In a separate suit against the United States, Kidd might still be able to claim that FBI agents misrepresented the facts in obtaining the warrant. But a judgment against Ashcroft would have sent the message that senior officials will be held accountable for abuses of power. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in her opinion, Kidd's ordeal "is a grim reminder of the need to install safeguards against disrespect for human dignity, constraints that will control officialdom even in perilous times."

 

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+26 # DaveM 2011-06-12 09:53
If all of this was done by the book, perhaps it's high time we all took a very close look at the book.
 
 
+11 # Diane Johnson 2011-06-12 10:07
the u.s constitution says no one shall have immunity in neither civil nor criminal matters.
 
 
+17 # tedrad 2011-06-12 10:31
Another supreme outrage!
 
 
+12 # myungbluth 2011-06-12 11:04
This is just another in a long list of issues that should have us taking to the streets - y'know, like the TEA PARTY used to do! Oops, my bad. I forgot. LIBERALS don't take to the streets any more (except maybe in Wisconsin). Viet Nam just wore us out! Now we just lie down in the streets and let the courts, the right, the companies, whoever - roll over us. How well is that working for us?
 
 
+13 # propsguy 2011-06-12 11:16
i think the entire country should sue ashcroft, cheney, bush and rumsfeld for crimes against the constitution. let them try to throw that out of court!
 
 
0 # John Lewis 2011-06-12 15:33
The land of the free seems to be less free that one might think. Seems to me that it is not just the citizens that are biased... Is this what demecracy is all about?
 
 
+5 # mhoganyjones 2011-06-12 16:00
Guilt by association? My G-D what have we come to? Beware, "friending" someone on a social networking site; you might have to fight with them over rat drumsticks in the concentration camp next!
 

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