United States of America v. Osama Awadallah Historic Case

At a Glance

Case Description 

United States of America v. Osama Awadallah is a lawsuit in which the Center for Constitutional Rights defended Osama Awadallah against charges of making two false material declarations before a grand jury. CCR maintained that Mr. Awadallah was illegally detained and that the perjury charges against him should be dropped.

Mr. Awadallah is a Jordanian student whom the government alleged may have briefly met two of the 9/11 al Qaeda hijackers. He was arrested in San Diego on September 21, 2001 and was held for months as a material witness for a grand jury investigation of the attacks on the World Trade Center. He was not arrested based on probable cause or belief that he had committed any crime, but was only held as a material witness.

After he testified, he recanted his testimony and was charged with two counts of knowingly making a false material declaration before the grand jury. Mr. Awadallah was treated as a high-security inmate and detained in various prisons across the country.

In January 2002, Judge Shira Scheindlin of the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York ruled that the government had misused the statute by holding Mr. Awadallah for a grand jury investigation and that the statute only allowed the detention of material witnesses in the pretrial stage. Consequently, the detention of Mr. Awadallah solely for that purpose was unlawful. The court also dismissed the perjury charge on grounds that he had been illegally detained.

The district court decision was reversed in a government appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in November 2003. The appeals court reinstated Mr. Awadallah’s indictment. CCR believes the decision was wrongly decided because of Mr. Awadallah’s wrongful detention.