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U.S. denies blame in former UI student’s suit

BOISE – The United States says it did nothing wrong when federal agents arrested and detained an American citizen as a material witness in a computer terrorism case.

The government’s formal response to the lawsuit brought by Abdullah al-Kidd was filed in U.S. District Court on Friday.

In his lawsuit, al-Kidd contended that the federal government and several of its agents – including former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and his successor, Alberto Gonzales, FBI Director Robert Mueller, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and others – violated his civil rights by improperly using material witness laws.

The individuals named in the case have until Nov. 27 to respond; the United States’ response deadline was Friday.

In its response, filed by Justice Department lawyer J. Marcus Meeks, the United States denied al-Kidd’s allegations and said that al-Kidd was not entitled to any damages.

The lawsuit arose after al-Kidd – a former student at the University of Idaho who played football for the Vandals under the name Lavoni Kidd – was arrested in 2003 as a material witness in the government’s case against a fellow student, Sami Omar Al-Hussayen. Al-Kidd and Al-Hussayen worked on behalf of the Islamic Assembly of North America, a Michigan-based charitable organization that federal investigators alleged funneled money to activities supporting terrorism and published material advocating suicide attacks on the United States.

A jury acquitted Al-Hussayen of using his computer skills to foster terrorism and of three immigration violations after an eight-week federal trial. But Al-Hussayen was eventually deported to Saudi Arabia.

Al-Kidd was never actually called to testify, but he spent two weeks in jail as a material witness and was later released to the custody of his wife with strict limitations on where he could travel. He sued, alleging that he was falsely imprisoned and that the government violated due process, using material witness laws to arrest, detain and investigate individuals without first proving probable cause.

Al-Kidd said the investigation and detention not only caused him to lose a scholarship to study in Saudi Arabia, but cost him employment opportunities.