The New York Times reports on the saga of Abdullah al Kidd.
1. Abdullah al Kidd is a US citizen;
2. Mr. Kidd was at no point charged with doing anything wrong, and the NYT reports nothing that suggests there was any reason to suspect him nor that any law enforcement officers ever had a reasonable suspicion he did anything illegal;
3. Mr. Kidd didn't know much of importance;
4. What Mr. Kidd allegedly knew was about another guy who was aquitted of aiding alleged terrorists by working on a web site, and all he supposedly knew was something about the other guy having overstayed a visa;
5. The other guy's prosecution was itself a disgrace—a complete stretch of the law that, had it succeeded, could have made any computer consultant a 'terrorist'.
Mr. Kidd was detained as a material witness for 16 months, some in jail and the rest forced to live with his in-laws where he had been staying temporarily prior to leaving for his scholarship in Saudi Arabia. During this period, he lost his graduate scholarship. The director of the FBI testified to Congress that Mr. Kidd's arrest was a triumph of counterterrorism. Mr. Kidd had to work moving furniture. His wife left him and took his daughter. Now he finds he's as unemployable as if he were a convicted felon.
I believe this abuse of the material witness statute to be incompatible with freedom. It is one more reason why not re-electing George W. Bush is essential to preserving our liberties. And if Congress had any guts, it would amend the material witness statute post haste. (Being something of a realist, I'd even settle for immediately post-election.)
For Post-9/11 Material Witness, It Is a Terror of a Different Kind: Abdullah al Kidd was on his way to Saudi Arabia to work on his doctorate in Islamic studies in March 2003 when he was arrested as a material witness in a terrorism investigation. An F.B.I. agent marched him across Dulles Airport in Washington in handcuffs.
“It was the most horrible, disgraceful, degrading moment in my life,” said Mr. Kidd, an American citizen …
The two weeks that followed his arrest, he said, were a terrifying and humiliating ordeal.
“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.”
After that, a federal judge ordered him to move in with his in-laws in Las Vegas, where his wife was planning to stay until she joined him in Saudi Arabia.
Mr. Kidd, who described himself as “anti-bin Laden, anti-Taliban, anti-suicide bombing, anti-terrorism,” was never charged with a crime and never asked to testify as a witness. In June, 16 months after his arrest, the court said he was free to resume his life.
But at the kitchen table of his dumpy little bachelor flat here, with a television on the floor and incense in the air, Mr. Kidd said the experience had cost him dearly. He lost his scholarship, he now moves furniture for a living, and his marriage has fallen apart. About 60 other men have been held in terrorism investigations under the federal material witness law since the Sept. 11 attacks, according to a coming report by Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union…
Though the law requires that material witnesses be held “for a reasonable period of time until the deposition of the witness can be taken,” such sworn interviews are seldom used in terrorism investigations
The jury found Mr. Hussayen not guilty of the more serious charges and deadlocked on others. Not long after, the restrictions on Mr. Kidd's travel were lifted and his passport was returned.
Norm Brown, an F.B.I. supervisor in charge of the joint terrorism task force in Spokane, Wash., said Mr. Kidd had information relevant to a minor charge – that Mr. Hussayen had violated the terms of his student visa.
You need a lay witness to establish that a person overstayed his visa???
Mr. Brown of the F.B.I. defended the decision to detain Mr. Kidd, citing what he called three red flags. Mr. Kidd had listed “jihad” among his interests on a Web site, which the F.B.I. interpreted, Mr. Brown said, as a reference not to “a personal struggle so much as a holy war.”
Second, Mr. Brown said, Mr. Kidd “sold tapes and books containing the teachings of radical sheiks” when he lived in Idaho. Third, Mr. Kidd's possessions when he was arrested included a video of concern, Mr. Brown said. “It had to do with the hijacking and terrorist events on Sept. 11, 2001. At this point, I'll leave it at that.”
Mr. Kidd responded that “jihad” has “a vast array of meanings”; that he never knowingly distributed radical works; and that the video documented terrorism, rather than promoting it.
These are all First Amendment activities. Or, at least, they were.
I hope John Ashcroft and George Bush are real, real proud of how they are defending Amercia. If this is “steady leadership” I'll take wobbly any day.