A federal appeals court has ruled that former Attorney General John Ashcroft can be held personally liable for wrongfully detaining people as material witnesses after 9/11. Abdullah al-Kidd, a native-born U.S. citizen, was held as a material witness in a federal terrorism case for two weeks in 2003. He was never charged, but suffered all sorts of negative personal consequences as a result of his arrest and imprisonment.
I have mixed feelings about this case. On the one hand I sympathize with al-Kidd. His rights as a U.S. citizen were clearly violated, and he deserves restitution from the government. Although the Bush administration's detention of people as material witnesses was understandable under the circumstances after 9/11, al-Kidd was guilty of nothing and should be compensated for the major disruption to his life. Heavy-handed government actions are typical during crisis situations, but after the crisis has passed, they need to be cleaned up. Unlike its representation of hostile alien terrorists, in this case the ACLU is on the right side, defending the rights of Americans.
On the other hand, allowing lawsuits to personally target government officials because of policies which violated individuals rights is a bad idea. Ashcroft was part of an administration and didn't carry out actions in a vacuum. The entire government is responsible for its policies. The lawsuit should be al-Kidd vs. United States, not al-Kidd vs. Ashcroft. The article doesn't really explain why the court broke from precedent and allowed Ashcroft to be sued personally, other than mentioning "specific statements that Ashcroft himself made." That seems pretty thin.