Notes on the Atrocities
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Thursday, May 27, 2004  

The state of Oregon, through a strange quirk of circumstances, has been ground zero in the battle of civil libertarians against the John Ashcroft DOJ. Yesterday we beat off one incursion--when Pentacostal John tried to shut down our Supreme-Court-approved Death with Dignity act. Pentacostal John is also still wrangling with states--including Oregon--over medical marijuana.

But the biggest battles have been against terrorists. A year after 9/11, Ashcroft announced one of his biggest busts: the so-called Portland Six. Months later, the number climbed to seven, when Jackboot John decided to imprison a US citizen and Intel employee named Maher Hawash. He was placed in solitary confinement and held uncharged under the "material witness" clause. It set off a storm of controversy, confused by the fact that the man charged was a foreign-born Muslim. A local Mike Savage wannabe wrote in the Oregonian that his guilt was clear by virtue of his "Islamic beard."

The Portland Seven were ultimately found guilty--but not of terrorism. All of the accused plead out before the cases went to trial. In order to make their case, the "terrorists" were charged with a civil war-era statute (!) banning "seditious conspiracies." None of the Portland Seven will serve as much time as John Walker Lindh, but never mind--Ashcroft declared it a clear victory in the war on terror. He went further, admitting that none of the cases could have been made without the provisions of the Patriot Act: "The plea agreements in the Portland case would have been more difficult to achieve, were it not for the legal tools provided by the USA Patriot Act."

The bigots declared the case proof that their bigotry wasn't bigotry--just prudent distrust of the "Islamic beards." Everyone forgot that the original questions wasn't whether Maher Hawash and the Portland Seven were guilty--it was whether their rights had been violated in order to make the case.

All of which was academic until Jackboot Johnny turned again to the Patriot Act to target an Oregon Muslim. The difference: this Oregon Muslim was an American-born convert named Brandon Mayfield. His "Islamic Beard" was a whispy chestnut brown. Mayfield was accused of the Madrid bombing when the FBI claimed it found a fingerprint of Mayfield's on the bomb that blew up a rail station there.

Of course, the case was weak, so in a replay of the Hawash case, Mayfield was thrown in prison, uncharged, on the "material witness" charge. While the FBI smeared Mayfield, he was prevented from speaking by a gag order. The court documents were sealed, and the evidence was gathered by searching Mayfield's home on several occasions by dint of "secret search warrants" he only learned about later. (They weren't so secret, though. The incompetent FBI left many signs of their entry, mystifying the Mayfields, who wondered why theives kept breaking into their home without stealing anything.)

The guilt of Mayfield was established illegally, in secret, before he had a chance to even hear the charges against him. The evidence was hidden from him, and he was smeared in public by a government that, despite these shocking advantages, didn't believe it could make its case. (Turns out the FBI had already been told the fingerprint wasn't Mayfield's.) The reason he was even being pursued at all? Because he was Muslim.

Meanwhile, government documents made public on Wednesday said lawyer Brandon Mayfield was held for two weeks under the material witness law because of a fingerprint analysis that later proved faulty and because of his ties as a convert to Oregon's Muslim community, which included advertising in a Muslim yellow pages and attending a mosque under government surveillance.

We have created a system in which the race or religion of a US citizen is itself a evidence of guilt. Thanks to the Patriot Act's many violations of the Constitution, the government can track people secretly, gather evidence secretly, and prosecute people secretly, without ever revealing its evidence or methods. Had the Spanish government not been involved in this case, I have no confidence that Mayfield would be free now.

And guess what? Because Mayfield is a white American, his jailing caused a lot of people to reconsider the Patriot Act. The scales of bigotry now failing to occlude their vision of this fine white boy, they were able to see the rampant violations of his rights. And, because he was not a Jordian-born Muslim, we didn't hear too much of his "Islamic beard." This time around, it didn't seem quite as much a forgone conclusion that he was guilty just by looking at him. Remove the blinding force of racism from a case, and it looks a whole lot different.

Today's post on the American Street

posted by Jeff | 1:27 PM |
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