Yesterday the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case directed at John Ashcroft when he was the attorney general of the U.S.
The case is about an American citizen, Abdullah al-Kidd, formally known as Lavoni Kidd, (until he changed his name when he converted to Islam), who was arrested in 2003 as he was attempting to fly to Saudi Arabia to study law on a scholarship he received.
Kidd was known by the FBI as months earlier he had openly cooperated with them in a case involving another man. Several months had elapsed since that interview and he never heard from the FBI again until his arrest.
Kidd had bought a round trip ticket but was arrested by the FBI at Dulles airport prior to the flight. He was brought before a magistrate and the arresting agent said inaccurately, Kidd had purchased a one way ticket. Based on that assumption the magistrate agreed to his being held. He was detained for 16 days, shackled, held in high security cells, had his passport confiscated and told upon his release he could only travel within the U.S.
In 2005 Kidd filed a suit against Ashcroft contending his rights had been violated by his arrest without probable cause. At the time Ashcroft asked the case be dismissed on grounds he was the attorney general and as such was immune from prosecution. A federal judge disagreed and so did the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Now the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case next year.
What seems clear to this writer layman is Ashcroft and his FBI, in their zealous attempt to catch "alleged" bad guys, disregarded the law as it suited them.
One recalls, in an unrelated case, after anthrax found in letters had killed some postal workers in 2001 (the "anthrax scare") Ashcroft openly named Stephen Hatfill a "person of interest" in the anthrax investigation. He was never arrested or charged with anything but his name was sullied, his reputation ruined, he lost his job and was unable to secure new employment. All because of the air of suspicion created primarily because of Ashcroft's unjustified public airing.
But Hatfill filed suit against Ashcroft and in June 2008, the government settled paying Hatfill $2.825 million plus an annuity of $150,000 for the next 20 years.
Returning to Kidd's case against Ashcroft, the Obama Justice Department's lawyers have appealed on Ashcroft's behalf, asserting it would "severely damage law enforcement" if the attorney general could be held liable for abusing his authority. To this observer, doesn't such a stance unnecessarily raise suspicion about the activities of the current Attorney General Eric Holder? Is he engaging in activities that could be interpreted as not law abiding that could result in a suit brought against him?
From here it should all be rather simple; follow the law! Why is that such a hard concept to accept by officials charged with the responsibility to enforce the law?
As to Kidd, the government had the authority to hold someone as a material witness. But in this instance when Kidd was arrested Ashcroft's FBI stepped over the line when one of his men presented an untruth to the magistrate (Kidd's alleged one way ticket to Saudi Arabia whereby the magistrate justified having him held as a witness in the earlier case) that resulted in an illegal arrest, an illegal detention, an illegal travel restriction as well as Kidd alleging in his suit he was fired from a job because he was denied a security clearance as a result of his earlier arrest.
Such official law breaking leaves a trail of terrible human consequences. Luckily in Hatfill's case he was able to bring suit against the AG and be compensated by the government. Kidd's case is just as worthy.