At a recent local Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) conference comparing Japanese internment during World War II to the treatment of alleged Muslim conspirators in the ubiquitous War on Terror, lawyer Brandon Mayfield was the only panelist to get a full standing ovation from the near-capacity audience.
Wrongfully detained for 14 days in 2004 as a material witness in the deadly Madrid train bombings, Mayfield is one of PDX's most famous personalities in the War on Terror. After being released from jail, Mayfield continued to make headlines when he sued the FBI, alleging that his civil rights had been violated and that he had been detained because he was a Muslim convert.
That case was settled last November in a $2 million victory for Mayfield and his attorneys - complete with an apology from the US government. The aftermath of the bombing continues to live on: just last week, the trial of 29 suspects, many of whom are also Muslims, began in Madrid and is expected to last at least several months.
caught up with Mayfield to discuss his views on his perception of the continuing infringement of civil liberties, racial profiling of Muslim Americans within the War on Terror, and his plans (or lack thereof) for a future in activism.
WW: Is there any concern that your victory in court is just one example of a success, amongst a sea of other violations that continue to persist unchallenged by the courts?
Brandon Mayfield: It's my hope that the settlement of our case will dispel the myth that fingerprint identification is reliable, first of all. Secondly, it will dispel the myth that religious profiling is acceptable. So I suppose that's the broader implications of our case, in my mind. It's already set a precedent for other cases – last week there was a mention of my case in one that's going on in Scotland, for a lady who had been wrongfully detained for mismatched fingerprint analysis.
WW: In the "War on Terror," are there ever situations where targeting a Muslim suspect is acceptable?
Mayfield: Clearly I don't think that's acceptable. Even though the FBI says there was no religious profiling, in my case, that's ridiculous. All you have to look at is the affadavit of my search and arrest. Other than the fingerprint match (supposedly a 100 percent match, which we know wasn't true), everything else in the affadavit was related to my being a Muslim in some way. Whether it's my representation of a Muslim client in a child custody issue, or the fact that the government had followed me to my local mosque, or that I had an Egyptian wife, or that I advertised in the Muslim yellow pages, all these things were me being identified as a Muslim – which somehow made it justifiable to arrest me. I think it's primarily that I'm a Muslim and I associate with other Muslims. So therefore it's guilt by association. And even if it is guilt by association, why would you be guilty just for being a Muslim? Had I been a Maytag repair man, and not a Muslim convert, they probably wouldn't have pursued me in the first place. Because there's so many laws on the books – a creative prosecutor could probably prosecute anyone for a myriad of different things that they wanted to. They're looking with a fine-toothed comb at a lot of Muslims and particularly Muslim Arabs, and particularly Muslim Arab males in this country.
WW: What are the parallels between the Japanese internment of the 1940's and our government's treatment of Muslims in America today?
Mayfield: I think there's lot of parallels. If you think about it, there was the attack on Pearl Harbor, and so the Japanese Americans had to unfairly pay for what was going on in a belligerent act by a people overseas. We know that was wrong and unacceptable. And at the time, all but one of the Supreme Court justices ruled that internment was acceptable. If you look at the court rulings today, you've got a 2-1 ruling in the court of appeals just this week, that detainees don't have a right to habeus corpus. In a time of war, we're more willing to give up our civil rights for security than in peacetime, but those are the times that it's most important to hold on to and uphold our civil rights, in a time of crisis. It takes more courage from our men and women of leadership, be they judges or attorneys or politicians, to hold us to what defines us, that being our constitutional values that uphold justice, due process and equal rights.
WW: What prevents a new internment order from being issued today, but toward Muslims in America?
Mayfield: Ultimately, I think history repeats itself. In some ways you'd think we would learn from the lessons of history.
WW: So have we learned anything from our mistakes?
Mayfield: I think what's going on today shows us that we haven't. The powers that be tend to erode and whittle away at our civil rights and civil liberties with the parallel growth of the military industrial complex. It's quite convenient for the military industrial complex to have a clearly defined enemy. The enemy changes from year to year, decade to decade. At one point it was the Japanese Americans, later in the era of McCarthyism it was the Communist infiltrators, with the fall of the Berlin Wall it was unclear who the new enemy was going to be. The corporate industrial military complex needed a new enemy. I can remember predicting even back in 1995 when I wrote to The Oregonian
and said just that. I said my fear is that it may be Muslim terrorists next. That's what's happened, and it plays right into their game plan of imperialistic objectives.
WW: Have any of the intelligence agencies learned a lesson as a result of your success in court?
Mayfield: The current administration has not broken down the barriers of communication among the FBI, the CIA and the prosecutors - they've torn down the wall of protection between the people and the government. Which allows them to now go after you and to get warrants with less than probable cause. That seriously undermines the Fourth Amendment guarantee that you and I can be safe in our home protected from unreasonable searches. Once you've scaled that wall, it's hard to put it back again. We're headed in a dangerous direction. The Supreme Court is no longer an arbiter, or an umpire, protecting our civil rights, and that's starting to slowly happen, and that's one of the scariest things.
WW: Do you see yourself as taking on the role of an outspoken civil rights activist, or are you trying to make a conscious return to a private, family life?
Mayfield: Probably both of those things. I do still have my practice. I don't want to be on the lecture circuit because it's not what I do, or want to do – I actually kind of like lawyering. I'm trying to get my life back in order. Especially my family life. But I want to be a part of this larger discussion on civil rights, because it's extremely important. Anybody who's concerned about it should get engaged, whether it's lawyers, or judges or journalists - anybody. We've got just about the best blueprint for balanced government that I can think of, it's not perfect but it's pretty good. You've just got to keep it balanced, because it's not immune from becoming a fascist country if we the people don't stay on top of the government. LANCE KRAMER
Check out Hot Action, WWire's weekly post about activists, demonstrations and other hot political action in and around Portland every week.
Tuesday, February 27
Portland Freeskool Organizing Meeting
The currently two-person strong team is looking for help in organizing the new season of Freeskool, a collaboration that brings together free learning opportunities across Portland. 5 pm, Waypost Cafe, 3120 N Williams, (503) 367-3182