>Yesterday, at the request of the Obama Administration, and to the dismay of civil libertarians, the Supreme Court agreed to review a 9th Circuit decision denying former Attorney General John Ashcroft immunity in a lawsuit by Abdullah al-Kidd, who was detained as a material witness in 2003. I'm recycling here my comments on this case, published last year in Free Inquiry Magazine.
It's unlikely that we will ever know how many people were wrongly and summarily imprisoned, tortured, or otherwise abused in the aftermath of 9/11, but we do know that illegalities were systemic. A report by the Justice Department's inspector general released back in 2003 documented the abusive, extended detention of immigrants (often on minor charges) in the months following 9/11. Since then, the release of Central Intelligence Agency documents reviewing "interrogation activities" between 2001 and 2003, as well as Justice Department memoranda describing in chilling bureaucratic detail permissible "enhanced interrogation techniques," have made clear that torture was an official strategy, not an occasional excess.
"Aggressive detention of lawbreakers and material witnesses" was also official strategy, announced by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft at a 2001 press conference. It's hard to argue with "aggressive detention of lawbreakers" or even actual material witnesses, in theory. But, in practice, this policy apparently involved preventative detention and the wrongful use of a material-witness statute to arrest people without legal cause.