[News] F.B.I. Message Says Agency Lacked Evidence in Terror Arrest

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Fri Jul 15 13:37:16 EDT 2005

July 15, 2005

F.B.I. Message Says Agency Lacked Evidence in Terror Arrest


PORTLAND, Ore., July 14 (AP) - The day before a Portland lawyer was 
arrested on suspicion of involvement in the Madrid train bombings, an 
F.B.I. official stated in an e-mail message that the agency did not have 
enough evidence to arrest him on criminal charges.

The lawyer, Brandon Mayfield, was later released, with an apology from the 

The recently declassified message was written in May 2004 by Beth Anne 
Steele, a spokeswoman for the F.B.I. in Portland. It said that the F.B.I. 
had a plan to arrest Mr. Mayfield, a Muslim, as a material witness "if and 
when" his supposed link to the Madrid attack in March 2004 "gets outed by 
the media."

Mr. Mayfield was arrested a day later under the material-witness law, which 
allows the arrest and detention of witnesses who might flee before 
testifying in criminal cases.

The F.B.I. said at the time that Mr. Mayfield's fingerprints matched those 
found on a bag of detonators near the bombings. Two weeks later, it said 
the fingerprints belonged to someone else.

Mr. Mayfield, 38, has filed a lawsuit against the federal government, 
saying that he had been singled out as a Muslim and that the government had 
violated his constitutional rights, by wrongly arresting him and by 
wiretapping his phone before his arrest.

In a court document filed Wednesday, Mr. Mayfield's lawyers said that the 
e-mail message supported their case by showing that the government had 
"recognized it did not have probable cause to arrest Mr. Mayfield."

Ms. Steele declined to comment on the document.

In her 2004 e-mail message, Ms. Steele wrote to a colleague, whose name is 
blacked out, that Mr. Mayfield had been "tied" by a fingerprint to the 
Madrid attacks, which killed 191 people and injured more than 1,500.

"The problem is there is not enough other evidence to arrest him on a 
criminal charge," Ms. Steel wrote.

Michael Greenberger, a former Justice Department official who heads the 
Center for Health and Homeland Security at the University of Maryland, said 
Ms. Steele's e-mail message "corroborates what is already widely known: 
that when the Justice Department does not have probable cause to make a 
criminal arrest, but they have a suspicion that someone is involved in 
terrorist activities, one tactic is to arrest them as a material witness."

Such use of the material-witness law "raises constitutional problems," Mr. 
Greenberger said, because a person can be held for long periods without 
access to the legal protections that come with a normal arrest, like the 
right to a bail hearing.

Last month, the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch 
accused the Bush administration of misusing the material-witness law in 
detaining 70 terrorism suspects since the Sept. 11 attacks.

Of those suspects, the groups said, 28 people were charged with crimes, 
most of which were unrelated to terrorism.

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