Attorney released from Ashcroft hell

PORTLAND, Ore. – The FBI apologized to Portland attorney Brandon Mayfield on May 24 after he was released from two weeks in the Multnomah County Detention Center. While Mayfield was held without charges as a “material witness,” headlines insinuated he had been involved in the March 11 train bombings in Madrid.

Mayfield, an honorably discharged U.S. Army lieutenant, married and the father of three young children, told a news conference that as an American Muslim he had been singled out and discriminated against. “Notwithstanding the judge’s gag order, the government put out its theory and its facts while we were prevented from saying anything,” he said.

The U.S. government had maintained that Mayfield’s fingerprints were found on a plastic bag containing detonators, even after Spanish authorities questioned the FBI’s conclusion. Mayfield’s family, the Muslim community, and friends rallied to his defense. His mother angrily denounced the attempted frame-up, pointing out that her son had not left the U.S. in years.

Twenty-five percent of Mayfield’s practice involved representing Muslims in civil and immigration cases. A Muslim convert, he had been under FBI surveillance months before the Madrid train bombing in a clear case of “guilt by association.” His home and office were searched without warrants.

Then Spanish authorities linked the fingerprint to an Algerian. Mayfield’s attorney said, “But for the unusual circumstance of another national police agency conducting its own independent investigation, Mr. Mayfield would still be incarcerated.”

Mayfield pointed out that the FBI is holding a thousand or more detainees without criminal charges under the sweeping “material witness” clause of the Patriot Act, detainees who are as innocent as he is.

One of Mayfield’s clients in a civil family matter was Jeffrey Leon Battle, one of the “Portland Seven.” These young African American Muslims were charged in October. 2002 with conspiring to fight against U.S. troops in Afghanistan. None of the Portland Seven was ever in Afghanistan, and the FBI has provided no evidence that they ever contacted al Qaida or the Taliban. Nevertheless, last November, Battle and fellow defendant Patrice Lumumba Ford were sentenced to 18 years. Ford and Battle had accepted a plea agreement after their attorneys concluded that there was no way they could get a fair trial. Much of the evidence against them during their trial came from a paid informer who had goaded them into acts of adventurism.

The FBI used the Portland Seven case to whip up anti-Muslim hysteria, sending spies to infiltrate a Portland mosque. For months, police helicopters circled over the mosque to intimidate the congregation. The FBI charged that the Islamic Center of Portland (ICP) had raised funds for the Portland Seven – understandable, if true, since several of the defendants were members of the ICP.

The witchhunt was so intense that ICP President Alaa Abujinem last year became a co-plaintiff in an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit against Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller. The lawsuit asked the court to find the USA Patriot Act unconstitutional.

Saudi-born Abujinem, a U.S. citizen, told a news conference, “In America, the Bill of Rights does not allow the police and FBI to investigate me or other Muslim immigrants when we have done nothing wrong. Yet in recent months I have been treated as a suspicious person in my adopted country,” he said.

The FBI’s flimsy evidence against Mayfield raises questions about the evidence used in railroading the Portland Seven. Stanley Cohen, who has ably defended Muslims around the country, said Ford, his Portland Seven client, a graduate of Portland State University, fluent in Chinese, was forced to accept a plea in the face of a possible life sentence.

At their sentencing, Battle stated that the Seven were “victims of terrorism, not terrorists.”

The Portland cases bring to mind the attempted frame-up of Capt. James Yee, the Muslim chaplain from the Pentagon’s Guantanamo Bay Detention Center. Yee was arrested on suspicion of spying and finally released in December 2003, after three months in solitary confinement in a South Carolina Navy brig. All charges were dropped.

In an act of revenge, the Bush gang accused Yee of adultery and possession of pornography. “He was defamed and smeared and accused of being a spy,” said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “Then all of a sudden, they’re not even sorry. They’re saying, ‘You can go now, and for good measure we’ll throw in a few charges to further damage your reputation.’ It’s a very suspicious scenario that developed.”

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org