BOISE, Idaho (AP) — An Idaho jury will decide whether the U.S. government misused a law designed to ensure key witnesses show up for trial to target Muslim men after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a federal judge said.
Thursday evening's ruling from U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge in Boise enacts a recommendation made by a magistrate earlier this year. It's a win for a former Idaho man, Abdullah al-Kidd, who has been embroiled in a lawsuit against the government for seven years, contending that his arrest as a material witness in 2003 was simply a way for the FBI to keep him locked up while it investigated him for any potential crimes.
Lodge agreed that al-Kidd was falsely imprisoned. A jury should decide if the government's motives for the arrest were pure, the judge said.
Al-Kidd's attorney, Lee Gelernt with the American Civil Liberties Union, said al-Kidd has always believed in the court system and the ruling vindicated him.
"We have been saying for a decade that the government misused the material witness law and now a federal court has agreed that a trial in necessary to get to the bottom of the government's post September 11 practices," Gelernt said. "The court firmly concluded that there is too much contrary evidence simply to credit the government's explanation for why an innocent U.S. citizen like Mr. al-Kidd was arrested."
DOJ spokesman Charles Miller declined to comment on the ruling.
The government has several options moving forward: DOJ attorneys could try to appeal all or part of Lodge's ruling, they could allow the remaining claims in the case to move toward a trial or they could seek a settlement with al-Kidd.
Al-Kidd is a U.S. citizen who had changed his name from Lavoni T. Kidd when he converted to Islam as an adult. He was a University of Idaho student and football star when FBI agents first contacted him as they investigated an acquaintance and fellow student, Sami Omar al-Hussayen.
Al-Kidd cooperated with investigators and contended he was never told to stay in the country, nor was he told he might be asked to testify at al-Hussayen's trial. But on March 16, 2003 — several months after his last contact with FBI agents — he was arrested at the Dulles Airport in Virginia. Al-Kidd had been about to fly to Saudi Arabia to study, and he had a round-trip ticket with an open return date. But the FBI agents said they feared he was leaving the country for good and wouldn't be able to provide crucial testimony for al-Hussayen's trial.
Al-Kidd was imprisoned for 16 days and then placed under travel restrictions until the case against al-Hussayen came to an end. He never was called to testify in trial; after an eight-week trial, a jury acquitted al-Hussayen of charges that he used his computer skills to foster terrorism and of three immigration violations. Al-Hussayen was eventually deported to Saudi Arabia.