Today the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case involving the federal government's post-9/11 detention of terrorism suspects as "material witnesses." The case was brought by Abdullah al-Kidd, a former University of Idaho football star who was detained at Dulles International Airport in March 2003 on his way to Saudi Arabia, where he planned to pursue a doctorate in Islamic studies:
Magistrate Judge Mikel H. Williams of the Federal District Court in Boise, Idaho, authorized the arrest, based on an affidavit from Special Agent Scott Mace of the F.B.I. "Kidd is scheduled to take a one-way, first-class flight (costing approximately $5,000)," the affidavit said.
That statement was false: the ticket was for a round trip, in coach, costing $1,700.
Kidd was held for 16 days in three different states, ostensibly as a material witness. But he was never called to testify, and his treatment did not fit the legal pretext for holding him:
Mr. Kidd said he did not understand why someone held as a mere witness should be subjected to harsh treatment.
"I was made to sit in a small cell for hours and hours and hours, buck naked," he said. "I was treated worse than murderers."
Last year the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that Kidd could sue former Attorney General John Ashcroft for authorizing abuse of the material witness statute. In keeping with its policy of defending (and extending) war-on-terror excesses that the president criticized before he was the president, the Obama administration is asking the Supreme Court to overturn the 9th Circuit's decision (PDF).