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Editorial: Important decision.

When the 9/11 attacks awakened the United States to the horrors of an international terror that had already gripped other parts of the world, the American reaction was a potent mixture of fury and panic. The Bush administration had the chance to give wise and statesmanlike leadership to a confused and traumatized nation. It threw it away.

Instead it encouraged the basest public instincts and used them to manipulate the country onto a disastrous foreign policy course that culminated in the ouster of Saddam Hussein and the start of disastrous bloodletting in Iraq.

It also via the Department of Justice and the newly created and pregnantly named Department of Homeland Security initiated a domestic regime of intolerance and oppression, whose victims were inevitably Muslims and those of ethnic Arab origin. The full extent of the injustices perpetrated during this cynical manipulation of public opinion has yet to be revealed.

However, yesterday a Federal Court handed down a potentially far-reaching decision that could open up this Bush administration's can of worms. Three judges of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals have ruled that John Ashcroft, Bush's attorney general from 2001 to 2005, can be sued for violating the constitutional rights of a US-born citizen of Arab extraction by illegally detaining him as a material witness for 16 days. The detention had been wrong because Abdullah Al-Kidd, who worked for the Islamic Assembly of North America, had not actually been held because he had information the authorities wanted but because he was wrongly suspected of being connected with terrorism.

The court announced such an action was "repugnant" to the US Constitution and decided Ashcroft's contention that as attorney general and thus a prosecutor, he enjoyed qualified immunity from prosecution, was wrong. The judges, therefore, cleared the way for Al-Kidd to sue Ashcroft personally for damages and compensation. The appellant told the court that as a result of his detention, his marriage had broken up. He had also been unable to take up a scholarship to study here in Saudi Arabia.

It is likely, however, this decision will be appealed to the Supreme Court. The judges also warned Al-Kidd that it might be difficult to show that Ashcroft was personally involved in his illegal detention. Earlier this year, a similar case against Ashcroft and the FBI was thrown out for lack of just such a link.

However, regardless of the outcome of the Al-Kidd case, the American Civil Liberties Union has expressed the hope that it is the start of the "process of uncovering the full contours of this illegal national policy". In the past when America has been panicked, grave injustices have been done, first to innocent Japanese Americans, rounded up and imprisoned during World War II and then to anyone suspected of communist sympathies during the appalling Congressional witch-hunt led by Sen. Joseph McCarthy.

On both these occasions it took a long time for Americans to recognize the great wrongs that has been done. This time the process should be swift.

Copyright: Arab News 2009 All rights reserved.

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Publication:Arab News (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Sep 6, 2009
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