Following the guilt-by-association model of law enforcement that has become the norm since September 11, I was not surprised to hear that a lawyer in Portland, Oregon, Brandon Mayfield, was falsely alleged to be involved with the terrorist train bombing in Madrid, Spain. Nor was I surprised that papers like The Washington Post and The New York Times reported on Mayfield’s detention on a “material witness” warrant (used when the government wants to imprison you, but cannot charge you with a crime because it has no credible evidence) beneath flashy headlines suggesting that, of course, he was a terrorist.
A terrorist because he was a Muslim, married to a Muslim, living in Portland, Oregon where “terrorists” had been prosecuted. A terrorist –and this fact removed all doubt–because he had represented one of those “terrorists” in a custody battle to keep his child.
So, when fingerprints found on a bag at the scene of the crime vaguely had a few points of resemblance to those of Mayfield (found in an FBI database of 44 million prints because he served, honorably, in the Army), the FBI was quick to put the pieces of Mayfield’s Muslim connections with the prints and decide that they had their man. Yes sir, here was one of the actual perpetrators of the attack! He even carried a bag of explosives.
Never mind that there was no record of his having been abroad (and you know that the feds know whenever you and I have boarded a plane to travel overseas–if you don’t know that, you have not been paying attention). He must have gone to Madrid under an assumed name, they reasoned. And we know that the FBI cannot unravel anything that complex as identifying people who use aliases (a local detective I work with in my law practice can do that kind of analysis, but not the FBI–they don’t have computers, remember?).
The FBI finally backed down and released Mayfield, apologizing to him for the mix-up. The prints belonged to an Algerian man the Spanish identified. He is now under arrest. We are so sorry for the mistake, says the FBI.
Just how sorry the FBI is, however, is set out in a New York Times story appearing on June 5.
The FBI is sorry that the Spanish were so insistent on getting the right suspect, not just a convenient suspect that fits the FBI profile of terrorist. The FBI is sorry that the Spanish police “outed” them and their sorry tactics. The FBI is sorry that their mistake may call into question their heretofore unassailable assertions that their fingerprint analysis is 100 percent accurate. The FBI is sorry that they ruined an innocent man’s life.
The FBI is sorry that you know how sorry they are.
Think about Brandon Mayfield as you read about FBI Director Robert Mueller’s pleas to Congress to allow him to set up a secret domestic surveillance branch of the FBI. To spy on you, ransack your house and office, and maybe, if they are lucky, find your fingerprints at the scene of a “terrorist” strike.
And remember that if the Spanish had not blown the FBI’s cover, Mayfield would probably be facing multiple life sentences–or the death penalty for a crime he did not commit.
ELAINE CASSEL practices law in Virginia and the District of Columbia, teachers law and psychology, and follows the Bush regime’s dismantling of the Constitution at Civil Liberties Watch. Her book, The War on Civil Liberties: How Bush and Ashcroft Have Dismantled the Bill of Rights, will be published by Lawrence Hill this summer. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org