Suing Ashcroft

This is the headline from a Washington Post article:
Court Allows Lawsuit Against Ashcroft
Former Official's Bid for Immunity In Ex-Detainee's Case Is Rejected

And here are a few clips from the article:

A Muslim man who was detained for weeks as a material witness in a terrorism case can sue former attorney general John D. Ashcroft, a federal appeals court in California ruled Friday as it rejected a bid for absolute legal immunity by the onetime Cabinet official.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit gave a green light to the case filed by Abdullah al-Kidd, a U.S. citizen who was taken into custody at a ticket counter at Washington Dulles International Airport in 2003, while he was on his way to Saudi Arabia to study Islamic law and Arabic.
Al-Kidd and his attorneys argued that Ashcroft knew or should have known that the material witness statute was being used in a sweeping and abusive manner. Ashcroft, who is being defended by the Justice Department, maintained that the case should be dismissed because he had no personal involvement in al-Kidd's detention. He also argued that as the nation's chief law enforcement officer at the time, he enjoyed broad protection from lawsuits.

But Judges Milan D. Smith Jr. and David R. Thompson disagreed, writing that Ashcroft was not entitled to absolute legal immunity and that authorities had detained al-Kidd in part to conduct an investigation of his activities, without probable cause. Judge Carlos T. Bea wrote a partial dissent. All three judges were appointed by Republican presidents.

Al-Kidd, a Muslim convert who had been a standout running back on the University of Idaho football team, was confined in a high-security cell lit 24 hours a day, according to the opinion. He was strip-searched and transported, in shackles, across three states for 16 days before a court ordered his release. Authorities could not offer evidence of criminal wrongdoing by al-Kidd, and he never testified in a court proceeding.

For more than 15 months after his release, al-Kidd was forced to live with his parents-in-law in Nevada, curtail his travel and report to a probation officer. Al-Kidd lost his job with a government contractor after being denied a security clearance. Since his arrest, he has separated from his wife, suffered emotional trauma and been unable to hold a steady job, the judges wrote.
You can read the whole article here.

I never did like the preemptive pardoning of President Nixon by President Ford back in the 1970s.. always thought that he never had to answer for his crime. In hindsight I think that it was probably "good for" the country.. of course who really knows what the impact of a presidential prosecution would have had on the nation.

So I wonder about this law suit against the former attorney general. Is Ashcroft, or for that matter any governmental official, above the law? I am reminded of what Nixon said in his interview with David Frost:

"When the President does it, that means that it's not illegal."
So.. Ashcroft aside.. I wonder.. would our leaders in DC think twice about what they do if they no longer felt that they are immune from prosecution for their administrative or legislative actions? What do you think?


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  2. I don't think anybody should be immune to prosecution. Every person is expected to perform his or her job within the limits of the law. Matter of fact, I believe and always will, that the more powerful the person's position the more accountable he should be to the law and the people.

    Regarding Nixon, I would have prosecuted him, however, I don't think that he got off without punishment for his actions. He is the most disgraced president in our history. I'm sure that his fall from grace hurt a lot. If it didn't then any punishment would have been wasted on him.

    There are many cases of blatant abuse by our government during the previous administration, so many that the blame for the abuses has to fall on the shoulders of the leadership that set the expectations and limits.

    I don't doubt for a second that every president has exceeded his authority. I think that every person in a position of power over others will abuse that power. Most of the time the abuse amounts to taking procedural shortcuts or applying political pressure to the members of other departments of the government. When the abuse is a violation of our Constitution, our laws and/or our international treaties, the abuse is never insignificant and must always be investigated fully and all guilty persons punished to the fullest extent of the law.

    There is ample evidence that the Bush administration should be investigated and punished if guilty. Obama is wrong to ignore these possible crimes because it sends the wrong message to future administrations. "Do what you will because you are immune from prosecution."

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  4. As I was taught in school: Democracy is government of the people, by the people, for the people! That means we have the right to hold those we've given power to accountable for their actions! In my view this is a "no brainer"!

  5. Technically, we live in a representative democracy and we exercise that power of accountability through not re-electing those who abuse it. However, Ashcroft was an appointed official and would seem to require another form of accountability. Although, this particular suit is like suing a gun manufacturer for shooting someone, Al-Kidd does have a right to pursue it. I just don't think he'll win.

  6. Tend to agree with you Missy.. I do not think that he will win.

    I am conflicted about the case.. I feel for the victim and yet I hate to see lawyers settling our problems.. not that Al-Kidd has any other lawful recourse.. and you know who will be paying for Ashcroft's defense.

  7. Missy,
    This is NOT like suing a gun manufacturer for shooting someone. If you read the courts decision, you will find that Al-Kidd points to several public statements made BY Ashcroft himself in which he explicitly included the use of the witness detention clause as a tool to combat terrorism. This is a direct link between Ashcroft and the alleged violation of law. This case is more like someone suing a gun manufacturer for having a back market program to sell guns to known thugs and murderers.


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