BOISE – A federal judge has ordered attorneys for the government and an American citizen to take part in settlement talks that could end a wrongful imprisonment lawsuit.
Abdullah al-Kidd filed the lawsuit against the United States, then-U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and several other officials in March 2005, claiming his civil rights were violated when the government improperly used material witness laws to detain him for two weeks.
On Monday, U.S. District Judge Mikel Williams ordered both sides to take part in a settlement conference on March 5 at the federal courthouse in Boise. In his order, Williams cited a recent telephone conference in which attorneys on both sides indicated “that a settlement conference would be beneficial.” Williams also ordered both sides to fill out a questionnaire assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the case and declaring the amount of money they think would make a fair settlement.
Al-Kidd, a former University of Idaho student who played football for the Vandals under the name Lavoni Kidd, filed the lawsuit after he 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 both 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 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.
A material witness is considered to be someone who can give testimony no one else can give. In an important criminal case, such a person may sometimes be held by the government against his will to ensure the person’s availability for testimony.
Al-Kidd said the investigation and detention caused him to lose a scholarship to study in Saudi Arabia as well as employment opportunities.
He seeks unspecified damages.
The United States has maintained that it did nothing wrong in detaining al-Kidd.