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High court voids civil rights suit against Ashcroft

The Supreme Court ruled that former Attorney General John Ashcroft cannot be sued for his role in detaining a supposed terrorism witness after the 9-11 attacks. NBC's Justice Correspondent Pete Williams has the details.


From NBC's Pete Williams
A unanimous US Supreme Court today ruled that former attorney general John Ashcroft cannot be sued by a American-born Muslim man who claimed that he was improperly detained in the early days of the war on terror. The ruling is a blow to civil liberties groups who challenged a controversial post-9/11 policy.

The lawsuit was brought by Abdullah al-Kidd, who was arrested by the FBI as he sought to board a flight to Saudi Arabia in March 2003 for what he claimed was a study-abroad trip.

The government said he was needed to testify at a trial in Idaho of a man accused of helping al Qaeda run a computer-based recruiting network. Al-Kidd was held for 16 days as a material witness, but he was never called to testify at the trial.

Al-Kidd claimed his arrest amounted to unconstitutional preventive detention, and he said then-attorney general Ashcroft's approval of the practice amounted to a kind of "round up the usual suspects" policy forbidden by the Constitution. Lower courts said Ashcroft could be sued, but the Supreme Court today threw the case out.

The court held there was no constitutional violation, and even if there was, Ashcroft would be protected by the immunity public officials enjoy from lawsuits over their official acts.