Did the FBI Leave It to Beaver in the Mayfield Case?

| Thu Nov. 30, 2006 6:01 PM EST

In a case that shows quite succinctly that giving up our civil liberties does not make us safer, the FBI has acknowledged that it falsely arrested Oregon lawyer Brandon Mayfield in conjunction with the 2004 Madrid bombings.

Mayfield, a convert to Islam who has represented terror suspects, became a suspect himself (technically, a material witness) when a partial fingerprint lifted from a bag of detonators was wrongly identified as his. Get this: Three weeks before Mayfield was arrested, Spanish authorities had told the FBI the prints weren't his. But the FBI arrogantly ignored their advice. (Speaking of overconfident disregard of expert advice, see Leigh and Jonathan's posts below.)

The government then jailed Mayfield (he claims he was mistreated in jail), tapped his phone, secretly searched his home without a warrant, and plundered his personal information.

A March report [PDF] by the Justice Department Inspector General found that Patriot Act provisions allowed the FBI to share the results of its fishing expedition with law enforcement and intelligence agents, "amplify[ying] the consequences" for Mayfield of the FBI's amateur mistake.

Now that Mayfield has been cleared, the FBI has apologized and agreed to pay a $2 million settlement. It has also agreed to destroy the information it collected about him. Too bad they can't undo the damage already done.