Feds ask court to toss witness arrest lawsuit

AP News
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Posted: May 10, 2012 3:06 AM
Feds ask court to toss witness arrest lawsuit

Attorneys for the U.S. government and two FBI agents are asking a federal judge to throw out the remaining pieces of a lawsuit brought by an American Muslim who says he was falsely imprisoned when he was arrested under a law intended to make sure witnesses testify in criminal proceedings.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Mikel Williams is expected to hear arguments in the case in Boise on Thursday.

Abdullah al-Kidd, a U.S. citizen, sued former Attorney General John Ashcroft and other federal officials in 2005 after he was arrested and jailed as a material witness in a terrorism-related criminal case against another man. He contends his arrest was just a ruse to give the government time to investigate him for any potential wrongdoing. The federal government maintains its actions were constitutional.

The U.S. Supreme Court has already thrown out al-Kidd's claims against Ashcroft and a handful of other defendants. Now FBI agents Michael Gneckow and Scott Mace and the Department of Justice are asking the judge to do the same for them.

The case began in 2003, when a University of Idaho student and Saudi national Sami Omar al-Hussayen was arrested on terrorism-related charges. The FBI also interviewed al-Kidd, who was a football star at the university and who had done some computer work for al-Hussayen.

Al-Kidd said he cooperated with investigators and willingly talked to FBI agents whenever they approached him, but was never told he should remain in the country or that he would be expected to testify in al-Hussayen's trial. Instead, six months after his last contact with investigators, he was arrested at Washington's Dulles International Airport as he was about to fly to Saudi Arabia on a scholarship to study Arabic and Islamic law.

Al-Kidd said he was imprisoned for 16 days, repeatedly strip searched and at times left naked in a jail cell. He was never called to testify in al-Hussayen's trial.

He claims that Gneckow and Mace falsified information on an affidavit they used to get a judge to sign his arrest warrant, and that the United States falsely imprisoned him and abused his right to due process.

But Gneckow and Mace counter that they were relying on the best information they had at the time, and that they are immune from the lawsuit because they were acting under the authority of a federal prosecutor.

"Put simply, 14 months of extensive discovery has revealed no evidence to support Plaintiff's claim that Agents Gneckow and Mace violated any clearly established constitutional right," Department of Justice attorney Brant Levine wrote to the court. He wrote that Gneckow and Mace are entitled to qualified immunity, and should be granted summary judgment on remaining claims against them.

The judge is not expected to rule Thursday.