While we're waiting for City Hall's next, next move in the debate on whether to rejoin the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force, a civil-rights heavyweight weighed in on the issue Friday in Portland.
Susan Herman, the national president of the American Civil Liberties Union, told the City Club of Portland the question presents some "very challenging issues of accountability and secrecy."
Herman did not directly call on the City Council to stay out of the task force it left in 2005 out of civil-rights concerns. But her remarks strongly echoed the Oregon ACLU's opposition to calls that the city rejoin the task force after an alleged terrorist bomb attempt on Pioneer Courthouse Square last November.
Portland is the only city in the nation to drop out of the JTTF.
"Is this just Portland weirdness?" Herman asked. "I think what it is, is Oregon weirdness. But it's a very good type of weirdness, because it says we want to protect the First Amendment better than the federal government does currently."
Herman noted prohibitions against ethnic and religious profiling are stronger under Oregon law than under federal law. She suggested that would present a conflict if Oregon police work closely with the feds on terrorism cases.
"We all know what happened to Pavlov's dogs when subjected two different sets of rules," Herman said. "It's pretty difficult."
Herman said putting Portland police under FBI control blurs the lines of accountability and authority.
"It's about whether the Portland police officers are going to be accountable to the people who pay their salaries," Herman said. "This is not about the Portland police themselves. It's not that they are not good people. ... [But] even men of good faith can be tempted to be overzealous."
One audience members asked whether the feds can be better trusted now that President Obama—whom Portlanders strongly supported as a candidate—is in charge. Herman said many of the most reviled policies from the Bush administration's war on terror have continued under Obama.
"We all hoped because Barack Obama was the candidate of change, that there would be a lot of change in the federal government," Herman said. "But a lot of the FBI agents who are working in the federal government are the same people who are there under the Bush administration.
"Barack Obama will not be president forever," she added. "The structures of accountability should not be suspended because we trust the person in charge."
Brandon Mayfield, the Oregon lawyer who was falsely targeted by the feds for the 2004 Madrid train bombing, was sitting in the front row during Herman's talk. He said he believes the task force was involved in surveilling him and in his wrongful arrest.
"It should be pretty clear that I oppose rejoining JTTF," Mayfield told WW. "Oregon has certain values and laws that are different from those of the federal government."