That scene unfolded in March 2003, a year and a half after the September 11 terrorist attacks. One of the four planes hijacked in 2001 took off from Dulles. “I could only assume that they thought I was a terrorist,” Abdullah al-Kidd recalled.
Al-Kidd called his airport arrest “one of the most, if not the most, humiliating experiences of my life.” The humiliation had only just begun.
Over the next 16 days he would be strip-searched repeatedly, left naked in a jail cell and shower for more than 90 minutes in view of other men and women, routinely transported in handcuffs and leg irons, and kept with people who had been convicted of violent crimes.
On a long trip between jails, a federal marshal refused to unlock al-Kidd’s chains so he could use the bathroom.
Eight years later, the Supreme Court is weighing whether al-Kidd’s arrest and detention violated the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures.
The court, which will hear arguments tomorrow in the case, also is being asked to decide whether former Attorney General John Ashcroft can be held personally liable for his role in setting the policy that led to al-Kidd’s arrest at a Dulles ticket counter as he prepared to board a flight to Saudi Arabia.
In the midst of al-Kidd’s detention, FBI Director Robert Mueller testified to Congress about recent major successes against terrorism. Number one on Mueller’s list was the capture of professed September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
Number two was the arrest of al-Kidd, a Kansas-born convert to Islam who was not charged with a crime — either then or later.
Al-Kidd, now 38, was one of about 70 men, almost all Muslims, who were arrested and held in the months and years after September 11 under a federal law intended to compel reluctant witnesses to testify to grand juries and at criminal trials.
Al-Kidd was among the roughly half of those detained who were never called to testify in any criminal proceeding. One measure of Ashcroft’s policy is that the government apologised to or reached monetary settlements with at least 13 people, according to a report by civil liberties groups.
But al-Kidd received no apology. The Obama administration, representing Ashcroft for his actions as attorney general, continues to argue the arrest was constitutional.
The Supreme Court has said high-ranking officials may be held personally liable if they can be tied directly to a violation.