Thursday, November 30, 2006

Wrongful Arrest in "Terror" Case Settled

"War on Terror" run amok.

The U.S. government agreed yesterday to pay $2 million to settle a lawsuit filed by an Oregon lawyer who was arrested and jailed for two weeks in 2004 after the FBI bungled a fingerprint match and mistakenly linked him to a terrorist attack in Spain.

Under the terms of the settlement filed yesterday in U.S. District Court in Portland, the government also issued an unusual apology to Brandon Mayfield for the "suffering" caused by his wrongful arrest and imprisonment. It acknowledged that the ordeal was "deeply upsetting" to Mayfield and his family.

Mayfield will be able to continue pursuing his legal challenge to the constitutionality of the USA Patriot Act anti-terrorism law, which was used to obtain his personal records while he was under investigation.

The payment is a clear embarrassment for the FBI, which arrested Mayfield as a material witness in May 2004. FBI examiners had erroneously linked him to a partial fingerprint on a bag of detonators found after terrorists bombed commuter trains in Madrid in March, killing 191 people. The bureau compounded its error by stridently resisting the conclusions of the Spanish National Police, which notified the FBI three weeks before Mayfield was arrested that the fingerprint did not belong to him.

Mayfield's lawsuit alleged that his civil rights had been violated and that he was arrested because he is a Muslim convert who had represented some defendants in terrorism-related cases. ...

The case has become a potent symbol for civil liberties advocates who argue that it shows how easily the government can abuse its powers to detain alleged terrorism suspects under relaxed standards of probable cause.

Mayfield said in a statement yesterday that he was threatened with the death penalty while in custody, that he and his family were targeted "because of our Muslim religion," and that he looks forward "to the day when the Patriot Act is declared unconstitutional."

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