The U.S. government has agreed to pay $2 million and issue a written apology to a Muslim attorney in Oregon who was jailed two years ago after the FBI mistakenly linked him to the Madrid train bombings. Brandon Mayfield sued the FBI alleging that his civil rights had been violated and that he was arrested in part because he is a Muslim convert. In a Democracy Now! national broadcast exclusive, Brandon Mayfield and his wife, Mona, join us from Portland. [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZALEZ: The U.S. government has agreed to pay $2 million and issue a written apology to a Muslim attorney in Oregon who was jailed two years ago after the FBI mistakenly linked him to the Madrid train bombings. Brandon Mayfield was arrested and jailed for two weeks in May of 2004. At the time, the FBI claimed his fingerprints matched those found on a bag filled with detonators used in the Madrid bombing that killed 191 people. The FBI ignored warnings from Spanish authorities that the fingerprints were not Mayfield’s. Prior to his arrest, the FBI used the PATRIOT Act to break into his home and office and to electronically monitor his conversations.
AMY GOODMAN: Brandon Mayfield is a former Army lieutenant. He sued the FBI, alleging his civil rights had been violated and that he was arrested in part because he is Muslim. Brandon Mayfield and his wife Mona join us from Portland, Oregon. And we welcome you both to Democracy Now!
MONA MAYFIELD: Thank you, Amy.
BRANDON MAYFIELD: Good morning.
AMY GOODMAN: And we also thank you for coming into the TV studio after the ice storm. But why don’t we start with Brandon Mayfield? First, can you respond to the $2 million that your family is being awarded?
BRANDON MAYFIELD: Obviously, we’re happy with the settlement. It took us some time to get to this point, to get the government to agree to that settlement, and thanks in part to the wonderful work of my attorneys, Gerry Spence, Elden Rosenthal, Michelle Eder. And as you’re aware, that was a — it was a settlement for the money damages, and it allowed us to continue to focus on the most important part of the case, and that was the challenge of the constitutionality of the PATRIOT Act.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And for many of our listeners and viewers who are not familiar with your case, could you go through what happened initially, your initial contact with the FBI, and what were the circumstances around your arrest?
BRANDON MAYFIELD: Well, initially, my family and I, Mona and I, were suspicious that we were being followed, monitored, surveilled, if you will, actually even before the Madrid, Spain bombing. And that was back in March of 2004. And in April of that year, we were actually seeing telltale signs that somebody had been in our house that had burglarized our home, such as doors that were left unbolted — that is, where we would lock the bottom lock and not bolt it, we would come home and find the bolt locked. Blinds that were left closed, we would come back and find them partially opened. And even freshly vacuumed carpets, we would find footprints in the house that, by custom, we didn’t wear shoes in the home. So that’s our unofficial contact with the FBI. And that created a great deal of paranoia, fear and suspicion, even before I was actually arrested on May 6 of 2004.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, this was after the Madrid train bombing. So what happened after the bombings? Did this, kind of what you believed was surveillance at the time, intensify? Did you contact the authorities to see what was happening, who was possibly coming into your house?
BRANDON MAYFIELD: Well, initially we thought maybe we were being actually burglarized, that there were burglars in our home. And in fact, that’s kind of the way we characterized their break-in. It was certainly a sneak-and-peek to us, but for their, the FBI, local FBI’s ineptitude, we wouldn’t have known that they were in our home. But once they did, it created a great deal of fear and suspicion. And I think at one point, I myself even made a point to try to contact the local authorities. I called the police or one of their dispatch units. And I didn’t have an officer come to our home, but at some point, as the intensity increased, I had a good suspicion that it might be the local Federal Bureau of Investigation.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And in retrospect, what would have drawn the FBI to you, other than the fact that you are both Muslim? Were there any other activities that you were involved in that caught their attention?
BRANDON MAYFIELD: It’s hard for me to speculate, except that the FBI has denied that this was motivated — my arrest was motivated by any religious factor, yet if you look at the affidavit that was submitted in support of my arrest warrant, the search warrant, it mentioned things such as I was followed to the local mosque, a place of worship and prayer, I advertised in a Muslim yellow pages, my wife was Egyptian, that I represented a Muslim client. And so, I think that would answer your question. But why would you mention these things, other than there’s some kind of insinuation that being Muslim somehow equates to being a terrorist?
AMY GOODMAN: I’m just looking at one of the pieces in The Oregonian saying court records showed less than two years earlier, before you were arrested, you represented Jeffrey Leon Battle in a custody dispute. Battle was a member of the Portland 7, a group that was arrested in 2002 for plotting to fight with the Taliban against U.S. soldiers, one of the possible reasons that they were looking into you. Then talk about what happened after the bombings, when you were directly confronted, when you were arrested by the FBI.
BRANDON MAYFIELD: Well, if you’re talking to me, actually Mona and I both were accosted — I, at my office, and her, at our home — actually simultaneously, at the same time. However, I think it was probably shortly after 10:00, Mona’s my legal assistant. She helps me out at the office. On that particular day on May 6, I had taken the kids to school. I was at the office. I was preparing for a — I believe it was a wrongful death suit that I was handling, had a lot of files. I think I called her. Did I call you that morning, ask you when you were coming in?
MONA MAYFIELD: Yeah.
BRANDON MAYFIELD: I must have called her about 9:00, 9:30, sometime in that timeframe. I got an unexpected knock on the door, because I usually don’t take clients unless it’s by appointment. And strangely enough, I saw a man and a woman standing there, looking self-important, thinking that they were maybe trying to sell me something. And I thought I would just say, “Hi,” you know, “what is it that you need? I’m busy,” and have them be on their way. But instead they forcefully pushed their way into my office.
And at that point, I told them — I mean, they identified themselves, said they were FBI agents, said they wanted to talk to me. And I kind of motioned for them to step out of my office. And I said, “If you want to talk to me, just — if you want to, you could put your questions in writing, and I may or may not get back to you.” And at that point, then they continued to push their way into my office and eventually handcuffed me and identified that they were going to arrest me.
AMY GOODMAN: And Mona, what happened to you at home?
MONA MAYFIELD: Actually, about between 10:00 and 10:15, I heard a knock at the door, and through the window — I have a window in my living room where I could see briefly what’s outside, and I thought maybe it was the mailman or — you know, I just could see blue suits — or maybe Jehovah Witness or something of that nature.
So I opened the door, and I asked if could help, you know, “May I help you?” And they said that they had a few questions for me. And I believe I asked them who they were. They said they were the FBI. I said I’m not interested in talking to them. They said, “This is different,” and “Your husband’s fingerprint was found on a bag in Madrid.” I believe that’s what they said. And at that point, it was surreal. I mean, I was in shock. I knew it wasn’t true. The first thing that came to mind is either this is truly a mistake or they are framing him. That’s really what I thought at the time.
And so, they — I had to let them in. They came in, and they were in the house searching the home for about six hours, while they called it “containing the situation,” put me in the dining room at the dining room table. They proceeded to ask me questions. I don’t really recall what they were asking me, and I really didn’t have anything to say. There was nothing to say. I knew he hadn’t been anywhere. I know he wasn’t involved in anything. I just kept telling them that I really didn’t have anything to say to them and we hadn’t done anything. So they proceeded to search the home.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Did they take you in, as well, into their headquarters eventually and arrest you, as well, or just searched the home and take materials from your house?
MONA MAYFIELD: No. They just searched the home and took materials from the house. At that point, I actually — they were there, like I said, between 10:00 and a quarter after. I had to go pick up my children at school, and it was approximately 3:00 in the afternoon, and they were still there. I eventually had to — I asked if I could leave and go pick up my children. They told me if I left, I could not come back if they were still there, because once I left, I could not come home.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And, Brandon Mayfield, there was eventually, I think earlier this year, a report by the FBI inspector general, a very large report that was very critical of the FBI operation, but it suggested that they were also interested at one point in turning you into some kind of an FBI informant. Were any attempts done by them while you were in custody to do that? And could you talk about that period, when you were — the two weeks that you were arrested?
BRANDON MAYFIELD: Well, that was a long and dark period in my past. And those are some pretty dark memories: the days I spent in lockdown, in shakedown, in shackles and chains. No, I wasn’t approached to become an informant, if you will, I suppose. And I do know what you’re talking about in the report. That was a rather lengthy report, a 300-page report. I believe it was by Glenn Fine. I think he’s also — I think he’s the one who’s going to investigate the NSA warrantless wiretap program.
But, actually, not just to try to plug myself, but I’ve actually — I’ve kind of taken account of what happened to me, even in preparing for trial. Now, we haven’t had to go to trial, but I actually have written a book, and I’m prepared to release it soon, and it chronicles all of that, the suspicion leading up to the arrest, the arrest, the time that I spent in jail, in shackles and chains, here at the Multnomah County Detention Center. And it was a pretty dark, horrific time, even after our release. I mean, it’s the hardest time that myself and my family have had to endure ever.
AMY GOODMAN: You said you were shackled and chained. Explain exactly the circumstances you were held in for the two weeks that you were imprisoned, Brandon Mayfield.
BRANDON MAYFIELD: OK. I was in the Multnomah County Detention Center, and it’s fairly close to the federal courthouse. And I was first taken into custody of the federal marshals. Then they turned me over to the jailers at the detention center. I was put down into a maximum security situation, where you’re in a five-by-eight cell, 24 hours a day. You can come out for approximately one hour a day.
You’re in there with a lot of other dangerous individuals. And I won’t say that they’re all dangerous, because some of them are accused of things that they didn’t do, as I can appreciate at that point. Some of them are arrested. And by the way, they’re arrested at that point on probable cause. I mean, that’s the standard, that you only arrest if somebody is suspicious of a crime, and you have to have probable cause that a crime has been committed. You can’t arrest or search somebody’s place or arrest somebody without that standard. And that’s been the standard for 200 years, since the inception of our Constitution and amendment with our Bill of Rights.
And that standard is slowly being eroded, and it has been since 1978, with the passage of the FISA Act, which allowed warrants to be issued if there was — if the primary purpose was to gather foreign intelligence. And so, little by little, there’s been a whittling away at that standard-bearer and protection of our freedom and privacy, and that standard was — sure, go ahead.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Can I ask you, when you were held for that two-week period, were you ever brought before a judge at all? In other words, were you being held prior to being charged with something, or were you being held as a material witness?
BRANDON MAYFIELD: Yes, exactly. I was being held as a material witness. The FISA Act of 1978, it allowed the federal government to basically spy on us if the primary purpose was to gather foreign intelligence, if they could say the suspect was tied to foreign agents, if it was for a foreign intelligence-gathering purpose. PATRIOT Act of 2001 amended that standard, and now they can spy on us if the significant purpose is for intelligence gathering. It’s no longer primary, it’s no longer foreign purpose.
So virtually for anything they want, they don’t have to have the standard of probable cause that a crime has been committed to get a search warrant for an arrest, or for a search or an arrest. But FISA also undermines that probable cause — not FISA, the Material Witness Statute of 1984. That’s the statute under which I was arrested, and it’s the statute that Ashcroft and company have used to further abuse our time-honored rights, because this administration is using the material witness not as a tool for securing somebody’s testimony, they’re using it to lock up individuals that they suspect of terror or committing a crime. And it’s a misuse of the prosecutorial process.
AMY GOODMAN: In looking back on the case now, it’s clear, and from the big report that came out, almost 300 pages, that Spanish officials were raising serious questions about the fingerprints, from the beginning, on the blue bag, but that the FBI was rather insistent. Finally, they link the fingerprints to an Algerian named Ouhnane Daoud, who was among a group of militants, The Oregonian writes, who blew themselves up in April as police were raiding their suburban Madrid apartment. The FBI agent in charge in Portland, Robert Jordan, told the Indianapolis Star, quote, “If a similar investigation was being conducted and we were provided a fingerprint identification, we would do exactly what we did in the case of Mr. Mayfield. Of course,” he said, “we regret what happened to Mr. Mayfield, but, again, we are proud of what we did here.” Your response to that, Brandon Mayfield?
BRANDON MAYFIELD: OK, my response to that is, Hamdallah, thank God that I was released, and God bless the Spanish police and their good police work. But for them fingering Ouhnane Daoud, as you said, probably I would still be languishing in jail or labeled as an enemy combatant somewhere.
AMY GOODMAN: And the effects on your children?
MONA MAYFIELD: It’s actually been difficult for them. It’s really hard to tell in the long term how that’s going to affect them. But I know that it will deeply. I mean, if it’s going to affect an adult, such as myself or my husband, I know it’s going to affect the children for a lot longer. But, you know, they’ve been trying to deal with it. They’re moving on, and we actually would like to move on. It’s something that we’ll never forget.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both, Brandon and Mona Mayfield, for joining us. They have been awarded $2 million in apology for the U.S. government for arresting Brandon Mayfield.