(CN) – Former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft can be sued for wrongfully detaining people as witnesses after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the 9th Circuit ruled. The three-judge panel in Seattle called the government’s use of witnesses after the terrorist attacks “repugnant to the Constitution and a painful reminder of some of the most ignominious chapters of our national history.”
Abdullah Al-Kidd, an American student at the University of Idaho, sued in 2005, claiming his civil rights were violated when he was held for two weeks after 9/11 as a material witness.
He claimed Ashcroft’s policy unfairly targeted Muslim and Arab men, and that his two-week arrest cost him a scholarship to study abroad.
The court rejected Ashcroft’s assertions that he enjoyed absolute immunity from the lawsuit because it was part of his job.
The circuit agreed with Al-Kidd argument that Ashcroft used the statute to arrest people he wanted to investigate and detain as a preventative measure.
“More than 217 years after the ratification of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, some confidently assert that the government has the power to arrest and detain or restrict American citizens for months on end,” the opinion stated. “Not because there is evidence that they have committed a crime, but merely because the government wishes to investigate them for possible wrongdoing.”