Exposing outrages

There’s been a lot of stuff going on lately that hasn’t gotten enough attention in the media. So you, lucky reader, get to read my rants and hopefully learn something about this wonderful government of ours.

Everyone knows about Abu Ghraib and Iraq and all that. But these three stories are happening right here in the USA. They are examples of a federal government out of control and stomping all over the rights of its citizens. Whenever possible, I will link to The Smoking Gun so that you can read the actual documents that go along with the stories.

First up, the story of the mistaken fingerprint identity. Brandon Mayfield is a lawyer in Oregon. He was detained as a “material witness” in May after being linked to the Madrid train bombings. The sole evidence of his involvement was a fingerprint on a plastic bag found at the scene. We have since learned that the FBI analysis of this fingerprint was seriously flawed and was questioned from the start by Spanish authorities. The FBI has since “apologized” to Mr. Mayfield and his family for “the hardships that this matter has caused.” Hardships? Are you freaking kidding me? You threw the guy in jail for two weeks on a bad fingerprint and a bunch of innuendo about how he was the lawyer for one of the “Portland Seven”. Mind you, he was his lawyer in a custody case. Apparently, the fact that he converted to Islam didn’t hurt matters any, because that conveniently fits a profile. Mr. Mayfield is rightly coming out and speaking up about his detention. We should all heed his warnings, lest we be the next ones swept up in spurrious allegations.

Read on for the other two examples.

Next up is a bizarre story from Buffalo, NY. Steve Kurtz arrived home on May 11 to find his wife dead of an apparent heart attack. He called 911, and that’s when his problems started. You see, Kurtz is a member of the Critical Art Ensemble. One of their projects is making art out of biotechnology and genetic engineering. According
to the Washington Post, one of his projects was displayed at the Washington DC Corcoran Gallery of Art, in which he grew GM seeds under growth lamps, and then “reverse engineered” them by killing them with herbicide. I was skeptical of the art facet of this story, but that is a quite interesting project, and an interesting example of using art to bring attention to current issues.

Kurtz’ problem was that when the police showed up at his home in response to his 911 call, they saw the equipment he had and alerted the FBI that they may have a bioterrorist on their hands. What followed was classic FBI bungling. They detained him at a hotel for two days (until he finally decided they couldn’t hold him there and left), quarantined his block, and wouldn’t let him see his wife’s body (evidence, you understand). FBI field and laboratory tests have shown that Kurtz’s equipment was not used for any illegal purpose. In fact, it is not even possible to use this equipment for the production or weaponization of dangerous germs. Furthermore, any person in the US may legally obtain and possess such equipment. Besides, what kind of idiot calls 911 to his house without making a cursory effort to hide terrorist activities?

Mr. Kurtz, in spite of the overwhleming evidence of his innocence, is still the object of a grand jury investigation. You can follow the case as it progresses here.

The final case is one that does not evoke as much sympathy or outrage as the previous two, but is an important one nonetheless. Jose Padilla has been held for two years with no charges being filed against him. In June 2002, he was designated as an “enemy combatant” by President Bush, and has been in a Navy brig in South Carolina ever since. He has no access to a lawyer (although the lawyers who represented him before his designation continue to fight for him), and has disappeared into the legal black hole that was created by the USA Patriot Act. He will never see a courtroom or be able to defend himself, but the government will continue to try him in the court of public opinion. In order to make us all feel better about this dubious detentions, the government conveniently “declassified” documents yesterday. They claim that these documents prove Padilla was plotting attacks and is rightly being detained. All they prove is that such detentions are a good way of making Americans feel more secure and that the government is doing something to protect them from the evil terrorists. Deputy Attorney General James Comey even admitted as much, saying, “We have decided to release this information to help people understand why we are doing what we are doing in the war on terror and to help people understand the nature of the threat we face.” However, none of this information would ever be admitted in a court of law, as the statements released were obtained without Padilla having access to a lawyer and even without being advised of his rights.

Look, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying Padilla is an angel. He’s most likely a bad guy. But he’s still an American citizen. He is guaranteed rights by the Constitution. He should have been allowed access to a lawyer and given his day in court, just like every other citizen. The government has the burden of proof in this and all cases like it. Instead, it is choosing to bypass this burden (apparently it’s too much of a burden) and taking the easy road out by designating the tough cases as enemy combatants and throwing the detainees in the brig. The government should not be afraid to try these cases in the proper courts. This, and only this, would make me feel safe from both the terrorists and my own government.