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US Supreme Court Oks Idaho Football Player's Terror Detention

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on June 07, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Let's discuss the tale of Abdullah Al-Kidd. His case was recently reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court. But before we jump into the court's decision, we need to lay out the facts of the case and what really happened to Abdullah Al-Kidd.

Al-Kidd, a U.S. born athlete who once played football for the University of Idaho, was detained when boarding a plane for Saudi Arabia, back in 2003, writes The Spokesman Review. The reason for his detention? He was allegedly a material witness with his testimony needed in the case against Sami Omar al-Hussayen. Both Al-Kidd and Hussayen had been at the University of Idaho and both had also done charity work for a Muslim charity that came under federal scrutiny for suspected ties to terrorism.

So, Al-Kidd then spent two weeks in harsh prison conditions, according to Spokesman, where he stayed in cells that were illuminated around the clock, was strip-searched and was subjected to body-cavity inspectors.

Here's the punch-line: He was never called to testify at all on Al-Hussayen's trial.

The material witness statute was the Department of Justice's answer to the failure of passage of a statute they wanted regarding legal rules governing national security detentions, writes SCOTUSblog. By using the material witness statute, the DOJ would obtain warrants to detain citizens, citing "national security" reasons.

Al-Kidd, represented by the ACLU, sued then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, who asserted qualified immunity. Unfortunately for Al-Kidd, with no relevant precedent at the time of the case, he was sure to face a unanimous ruling against him at the SCOTUS level, despite the fact that the 9th Circuit ruled that Ashcroft was not entitled to qualified immunity.

Similarly, SCOTUS held that the arrest of Al-Kidd pursuant to a validly obtained warrant could not be challenged as unconstitutional on the ground that Ashcroft may have had an improper motive. Writes Justice Antonin Scalia:

"The Fourth Amendment regulates conduct rather than thoughts."

Well, that's a relief.

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