BOISE, Idaho — A U.S. citizen who said he was wrongly arrested when the government rounded up Muslim men after the 9/11 terrorist attacks has settled his lawsuit against the FBI.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which represented Abdullah al-Kidd in the lawsuit, announced the settlement Friday. Under the terms of the settlement, the federal government offered its regrets to the former University of Idaho student and agreed to pay him $385,000 to compensate him for damages incurred when he spent 16 days in detention facilities in 2003.
“I am pleased the government has finally acknowledged the trouble it put me through and has compensated me for that trouble,” al-Kidd said in a prepared statement. “I hope no one else has to go through what I went through.”
According to the ACLU, the letter expressing regret that the federal government sent al-Kidd as part of the settlement said: “The government acknowledges that your arrest and detention as a witness was a difficult experience for you and regrets any hardship or disruption to your life that may have resulted from your arrest and detention.”
In his lawsuit, al-Kidd contended that he was one of about 70 Muslim men rounded up under the material witness statute in the months after the 9/11 attacks. The law is intended to make sure that reluctant witnesses show up for trial, but al-Kidd said he fully cooperated with authorities and was never told he might need to testify in the federal government’s case against a fellow University of Idaho student.
Al-Kidd, who was born in Wichita, Kansas, was a football star at the University of Idaho. While attending the school, he converted to Islam and changed his name from Lavoni T. Kidd. He was still at the school in 2002 when FBI agents began investigating an acquaintance, graduate student Sami Omar al-Hussayen.
The FBI suspected al-Hussayen of providing support to terrorists by working on a computer website for a U.S. charity that was believed to be funneling money to terrorist groups. Al-Kidd cooperated with FBI agents as they investigated al-Hussayen, but he said he was never told to stay in the country and was never told that he may be needed to testify at al-Hussayen’s trial.
On March 16, 2003, al-Kidd was about to board a plane to study in Saudi Arabia when he was arrested at Dulles International Airport in the Washington, D.C. area. He was detained for 16 days, repeatedly strip-searched and transported between jails in handcuffs and leg irons, but never charged with a crime. Instead, al-Kidd was designated as a “material witness” in the government’s case against al-Hussayen.
The FBI agents said they feared he was leaving the country for good and wouldn’t be available to provide crucial testimony in al-Hussayen’s trial; but al-Kidd was ultimately never called to the witness stand. Al-Hussayen, meanwhile, was acquitted of the charges and eventually deported to Saudi Arabia.
Attorneys with the U.S. Attorney Office in Idaho declined to comment on the settlement. The full terms of the agreement were not filed in the public court docket.
Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project and one of al-Kidd’s attorneys, said he hopes the settlement will deter the government from making similar arrests in the future.
“The government systematically abused the material witness process after September 11,” Gelernt said in a prepared statement.