Political consultant-turned-filmmaker to focus on 'abuse' of law to detain Americans after 9-11

07/31/2013 04:53 PM

The revelations about the National Security Agency’s phone tracking programs are only the latest iteration of the lengths the government has gone to stretch the law in the name of national security, said a former Kentucky political consultant.

Mark Nickolas, now a film school graduate, was selected to film a documentary on Abdullah al-Kidd, who along with the ACLU, has sued the government after authorities detained Kidd in the wake of 9-11 under what’s called the federal material witness law. The film is called A Cloud of Suspicion.

Kidd, a Kansas-born college football player in Idaho who had only recently converted to Islam, was arrested in March 2003 at Dulles Airport and held under the material witness law under the guise of being called as a witness against a fellow Muslim and University of Idaho student. Kidd was held for 15 months and never called to testify.

The New York Times first reported on Kidd’s saga and has followed it as Kidd and the ACLU have taken it to court. Now the ACLU granted Nickolas access to some of its information and key players as Nickolas puts together the film, which he said will show how the Bush administration overreached, the Obama administration failed to correct it and the U.S. Supreme Court has failed to properly check the powers, including when it comes to “abuse” of the federal material witness law.

“You don’t have the same constitutional rights as a witness. You don’t have Miranda rights because you’re not being charged as a criminal,” Nickolas told Pure Politics (2:30 of the video). You’re being held as a witness. So it’s more insidious than what we had ever done before.

In the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft and the Justice Department sought broader police powers to go after terrorist cells they feared were operating in the United States.

“They got almost everything they wanted in the Patriot Act. But one thing that they asked for was they wanted the right to preemptively detain and investigate Americans, or people,” Nickolas said (1:15). “And Congress said, ‘We’re not giving you that. That’s beyond the bounds.’”

Properly balancing national security with freedoms seems to be a lesson U.S. leaders have to learn once each generation, he said.

“When you look backwards, we seem to be making the same mistake over and over again. We get freaked out about a terrible event. Our ideals about our country and our rights either go out the window or just get put on the shelf,” he said. “And that’s exactly when we want our elected officials not to get freaked out, not to follow opinion polls.”

Here’s the interview:

Nickolas has interviewed Kidd and former Bush administration officials, among others and has produced a 14-minute trailer (which can be viewed below). He said he is working on securing $400,000 in funding in hopes of having the full film completed by next fall.

Nickolas ran the Democratic primary campaign for governor for Jody Richards in 2003, then for Ben Chandler in that year’s general election. He later helped Chandler get elected to Congress before starting up the now defunct blog, bluegrassreport.org.

Now living in New York, Nickolas said he still keeps in touch with Chandler. And he said Chandler, who lost his 2012 re-election bid to Congress, could be a contender for the U.S. Senate seat in 2016.

(The political conversation starts at 8:00 of the interview).

Here’s the trailer for A Cloud of Suspicion:

A Cloud of Suspicion (Extended Project Trailer) from Mark Nickolas on Vimeo.


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