Witch Hunt?

by Yule Heibel on May 9, 2004

Witch hunts have a certain pattern: first, you find a person you don’t like for some reason. Second, you find a reason to accuse them of something. Third, you create enough hysteria (one fingerprint becomes fingerprints, for eg.) to lock them up under Gestapo-like rulings (“material witness”) and then you squeeze them until they confess to something — anything — that satisfies enough requirements to allow incarceration. The hunted is effectively made an example of, and everyone else is appropriately shocked and awed into falling in line. The key point is that you already believed the hunted to be guilty before starting the hunt that culminates in arrest. Brandon Mayfield has been profiled and now arrested on the basis of what the Spanish police say is an 8-point match on a single fingerprint (the FBI claims 15 points, but see the report by The Weekly Detail, below, on the problems of quantifying matches). Most significantly, he has been arrested on the basis of prior profiling and surveillance. The fingerprint was just the excuse. This has been happening to non-whites in the US since forever. But now it’s hitting the “white” (albeit wrong religion) guys, too.

Who’s next?

One of Mayfield’s influences was the family matriarch, Lydia Mayfield, his paternal grandmother, who died more than a year ago at age 99. Opinionated and strong-willed, Lydia Mayfield was a teacher and an avid reader who studied several languages, including Latin. She wrote letters to the editor of the local newspaper and often spoke out about her view that U.S. leaders should pay more attention to domestic affairs than international ones.

“She instructed all of the family: ‘If you believe something, if you really believe it, then you can say it,’ ” Alexander said.

Mayfield’s father, a self-described “wave-maker” and “avowed” atheist, shares some of his mother’s traits. He’s outspoken, for instance, when it comes to his disdain for organized religion. “In a small community,” he said, “that in itself makes you stand out a little bit.” [More…]

The report said Spanish forensics experts found only eight points of similarity between the print and the one of Mayfield held in U.S. files because of his status as a former member of the Army.

The FBI said it found 15 such points, El Pais said.

The Weekly Detail, an Internet newspaper for fingerprint experts, says a certain number of coinciding so-called Galton points used to be required by various countries before an identification was legally accepted.

However, it said that investigators now evaluate prints on a number of levels, thus “there is no statistical foundation for a minimum point requirement” because modern tests are both qualitative and quantitative and too complex to be quantified. [Another more….]

Anjana Malhotra, an attorney for Human Rights Watch, called the practice an “end run” around normal probable cause requirements for holding suspected criminals. “They hold him until they have something,” Malhotra said by telephone. [More more….]

But Spanish police say they have not turned up any sign so far that Mayfield was in Spain during the time the bombings were plotted and carried out, two senior officials said.

Nor have Spanish police found evidence that Mayfield had meetings, phone conversations or Internet communications with any of the two dozen bombing suspects, a predominantly Moroccan group of Islamic extremists with limited ties to Americans or the United States.

In a report prepared more than three weeks ago by Spanish police about the lead involving Mayfield, he was described as a U.S. military veteran who was already under investigation by U.S. authorities for alleged ties to Islamic terrorism.

It is not known why Mayfield was being investigated, though the mosque where he worshipped was also attended by defendants in another terrorism case. Known as the “Portland Seven,” the six men and one woman have pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiring to wage war against the United States.

One of the men was a client of Mayfield in a child custody case. [Another big more….]

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