Why Ashcroft Must Go

The first time they allowed Brandon Mayfield any visitors, he reached out toward the heavy glass partition and spoke into the telephone, trying to reassure his wife and mother:

“Even after the FBI had searched his house, carried away belongings and confiscated credit cards and checkbooks – without charging him with a crime – Mayfield told his family that he had faith in the system.

“‘He said he believes in this system. He said it is the best system in the world,’ AvNell Mayfield, 63, recalled. ‘He knows he will be exonerated. He said no matter what transpires, just be patient, reassure the children and don’t let the waiting get to you. He said, `This will all turn out alright.'”

And so it did – but not until John Ashcroft’s Justice Department had done everything to keep him jailed, defenseless, and smeared as a “terrorist” in the eyes of the world.

Two weeks after the March 11 Madrid terrorist bombings, the FBI started watching the 37-year-old lawyer and Muslim convert 24/7. The ostensible reason was that a computer search matching up fingerprints found at the scene of the bombing matched his – along with 15 others. The FBI narrowed it down to three, and honed in on Mayfield because of his religion, his associations, and his political views. This is what one FBI official later described as “an absolutely incontrovertible match.”

Using the power granted them by the “PATRIOT” Act, FBI agents broke into his house and conducted a search in his absence, rifling through his kids’ Spanish homework, and leaving the doors double-bolted – which immediately alerted the Mayfield family that someone had been on the premises. Mayfield called 911 when it happened a second time, and he found a man’s footprint on the rug. They couldn’t pick up the phone without hearing an odd clicking. When the FBI finally swooped down on the Mayfields’ home in a quiet suburb of Portland, Oregon, they burst in the door, trashed the place, and trundled him off in handcuffs without a word. He was jailed for weeks without charges: Ashcroft’s goons told the media he was being held as a “material witness” to the Madrid bombings.

By mid-April, the Spanish authorities were saying there was no trace of Mayfield’s presence in their country, and also disagreed with the FBI’s contention that the prints found on a detonator bag matched Mayfield’s. The Americans had seen only a computer-generated copy, not the original image of the prints. But the case against Mayfield didn’t rest entirely on somewhat dubious physical evidence, as this news report details:

“The FBI pointed to Mayfield’s attendance at a local mosque, his advertising legal services in a publication owned by a man suspected to have links to terrorism, and a telephone call his wife placed to a branch of an Islamic charity with suspected terrorist ties. They also noted that Mayfield represented a man in a child custody case who later pleaded guilty to conspiring to help al-Qaida and the Taliban fight U.S. forces in Afghanistan.”

Another news report cites a U.S. official as saying:

“If that print had matched with some little old lady in Peoria, that would be one thing. But what are the odds it would be somebody with this background?”

Or, as Kent Mayfield, Brandon’s brother, put it:

“I think the reason they are holding him is because he is of the Muslim faith and because he is not super happy with the Bush administration. So if that’s a crime, well you can burn half of us.”

More than half of us, if the polls are any indication.

The attorney general of the United States has been on a witch-hunt since 9/11, and what I want to know is how many others are being held, without charges, without the possibility of defending themselves, and without anyone either knowing or caring? How many swept up in the anti-Muslim anti-Arab pogrom launched by Ashcroft in the wake of 9/11 – on the basis of similarly weighty “evidence” – are being held even now?

Using the excuse of “fighting terrorism,” Ashcroft and his apologists have sought to shut down the Constitution, demolish the Bill of Rights, and set up what can only be described as a police state. Although they already had the legal tools – and more than enough clues – to track down Mohammed Atta and his friends and put them out of business, Ashcroft’s gang seized the opportunity presented by the worst terrorist attack in American history to breach the walls of constitutional government and ram the “PATRIOT” Act through a disoriented and totally intimidated Congress.

As our color-coded alert system cascaded from yellow to orange, it became politically important that the Bush administration be seen as trying to fight domestic terrorism as energetically as they were prepared to go after Saddam Hussein. Any expression of support for Arab groups of any kind became immediately suspect: all you had to do was send a check to a cause deemed “terrorist” by the feds, and you were to be treated as an “enemy combatant.”

We are all enemy combatants in Ashcroft’s war on the Constitution – except for the tiny minority of militant neocons, who play the indispensable role of volunteer stool pigeons and rationalizers of the police state mentality.

Writing in Frontpagemag.com, neocon David Horowitz’s hate-site, Stephen Schwartz sought to score a few propaganda points to further his totalitarian agenda. Declaiming that the Mayfield arrest was just another episode in the fight against our “internal enemies,” Schwartz gleefully crowed that this signaled “a deepening and dangerous crisis for American society and its relationship to Muslims who live within the borders of the U.S.” Aside from having volunteered to represent Thomas Battle, one of the Portland Seven, in an unrelated child custody case, writes Schwartz:

“Mayfield’s biography includes other troubling items. As a law student at Washburn University, in Topeka, Kan., he helped organize a branch of the Muslim Student Association of the U.S. and Canada (MSA), which was set up by agents of Saudi Arabia’s official Islamic clerical establishment to propagate the extremist doctrines of Wahhabism.”

There were other aspects of Mayfield’s religious and political beliefs that super-sleuth Schwartz found “troubling”: he went to a mosque supposedly favored by the Portland Seven. The mosque’s website (www.bilalmasjid.com) is what really got Schwartz the would-be police spy going: It “includes a set of links supporting” what Schwartz considers “Islamist radical advocacy and organizations.”

In the world Schwartz and Ashcroft would have us live in, the wrong links – computer links – can put you in jail. Not only that, but, in their Bizarro World universe, the more normal you are, the more suspect you are, as Schwartz argues in his piece:

“Innocuous, obscure Americans like [Mayfield] are precisely the sort of people extremist conspirators would seek to involve in their activities. Mayfield and his family say he never visited Spain or Morocco, the centers of the Madrid bombing conspiracy, but it is in the nature of a global conspiracy to be, well, global, and to call on participants far from the places in which actions are carried out.”

So you’d best watch out, all you innocuous, obscure Americans – because the sinister Schwartz and his FBI buddies are watching you.

Now we must all answer to Schwartz, and to Ashcroft: for our computer links, our beliefs, our very normality – all of which can be used as “evidence” of our alleged subversion. The other day they locked up someone for building a website for a group that was deemed “terrorist.” All this is being done in the name of “preemptively” attacking an alleged “imminent” threat – and where have we heard that one before?

Writing in Frontpagemag.com, one Steven Vincent averred:

“The Bush Administration must be praying they got this one right. As revelations of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib continue to cast doubts on the Defense Department’s conduct of the war in Iraq, the case of Brandon Mayfield – the Oregon lawyer jailed for supposedly aiding the Madrid bombers – is sharpening debate on the Justice Department’s pursuit of the War on Terror. Should FBI allegations against Mayfield prove less than credible, critics will find further support for their contentions that the White House is engaged in an anti-Muslim witch-hunt. Conversely, should Mayfield prove culpable in the 3-11 massacre, suspicions that anti-Western Muslims are hatching plots from inside America will gain increasing strength – as could support for John Ashcroft and his enforcement of the PATRIOT Act. The stakes are that high.”

Well, then, since Mayfield has been released, and the FBI has apologized, one assumes Frontpagemag.com will now run an editorial admitting that the critics of the PATRIOT Act were right. Oh, yeah, and Vincent, Schwartz, and the horrific David Horowtiz will no doubt follow the FBI’s example and say sorry for casting aspersions on an innocent man – right?

Don’t hold your breath. Vincent’s article, while detailing the skepticism of the Spaniards in regard to some very flimsy evidence – and acknowledging that the FBI had rushed to judgement – went on to say it’s no wonder he was targeted and jailed because, after all,

“He also fits the profile of a domestic terrorist through his status as a Muslim convert and former member of the U.S. armed forces. “

Vincent goes on to detail the activities of a number of individuals who have nothing whatsoever to do with Mayfield, even invoking the name of Tim McVeigh, who, we are informed, “reportedly returned from Gulf War I a vehement Arabist”!

This argument-by-amalgam is the favored methodology of the neocons, who habitually use it to smear their enemies. If you attack the neocons, as, say, Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski did in exposing the key role played by the Office of Special Plans in lying us into war, you must be a member of the LaRouche cult, as Michael Rubin averred in National Review Online recently. If you really hit the War Party where it hurts, like General Anthony Zinni did recently in "60 Minutes" interview, naming the neocons as having put the mess in Mesopotamia, you’re an “anti-Semite,” as Joel Mowbray, and, more recently, the Jerusalem Post have charged. If you puncture the puffed-up pretensions of the porcine Schwartz, as I have on several occasions, you’re a “fascist” and in league with “terrorists.”

The new totalitarians speak the language of “democracy,” liberality, and modernity: they pose as the champions of Western civilization against an encroaching barbarism, and claim that their goal is to “liberate” the earth, starting with the Middle East. It’s a bald-faced lie. The neoconservative agenda is topped, as always, by the glory and utter necessity of perpetual war: that is their number one principle. But they cannot hope to prevail if they are faced with the prospect of rising criticism on the home front: that is the “lesson” they learned from Vietnam. The war, they maintain to this day, was winnable: we were defeated by the antiwar movement, they claim, by Jane Fonda and not Ho Chi Minh. This time, however, the neocons are determined that the pattern won’t be repeated – and they are seeking to grasp the legal “tools” to nip it in the bud. They can spy on us, they can leak whatever information they discern, and they can do it all in the dark, “legally” – insofar as the concept of legality applies to such a system.

Neocon godfather Irving Kristol long ago formulated an argument in favor of government censorship, and I expect this to be dusted off and recycled any day now. The entire neocon movement is motivated by the police agent mentality, exemplified by such groups as Daniel Pipes’s “Campus Watch,” which compiles lists of insufficiently pro-Israel academics, and Horowitz’s own soon-to-be-unveiled website, followthenetwork.org – which doesn’t seem to be up and running quite yet in spite of all the multi-millions poured into his coffers by neocon-controlled “philanthropies.”

Luckily for us these would-be world-conquering commissars are totally incompetent. The Justice Department has had a string of embarrassing “mistakes,” including the wrongful prosecution of Captain James Yee, yet another Muslim convert in the military, recently exonerated of all charges of “espionage,” and the persecution and pursuit of Steven Hatfill, named as a “person of interest” in the anthrax case, who has been smeared but never charged. Now we have the Mayfield case, another instance in which Ashcroft’s Raiders came on like the Gestapo but wound up looking more like the Keystone Kops.

This is not to trivialize the threat represented by the attorney general and his amen corner, but it seems to me that, through sheer fumbling, this Justice Department has called the credibility of its leadership into serious question. The President is dismissing General Ricardo Sanchez, and voices (not all of them Democrats by any means) are raised calling for Rumsfeld’s head, as well as Wolfowitz’s and Feith’s, on account of the Pentagon’s series of blunders in occupied Iraq. Yet Ashcroft has presided over a string of similarly disastrous decisions, including deciding to lock up Mayfield before much real evidence had been accumulated. As the International Herald Tribune reported at the time of his arrest:

“The authorities arrested a Portland lawyer in connection with the Madrid rail bombings before they had a clear idea about the strength of their case and they cut short a planned covert surveillance of him because of concerns that information was leaking out to the news media, according to law enforcement officials.”

The entire argument of the War Party, whether in foreign or domestic policy, is that preemptive action based on sketchy intelligence is a necessary part of the post-9/11 new world reality. Sure, we couldn’t know that Saddam had WMD or links to Al Qaeda, they aver, but we couldn’t afford to wait for reasonable certainty – “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud,” as Condoleezza Rice put it on national television. So what if we’re dragged into an endless, draining conflict in Iraq, and, perhaps, elsewhere in the Middle East. Don’t worry: you’ll get used to it!

The same principle applies to domestic law enforcement: we can’t afford to wait for proof, the rules of evidence must be relaxed, and the old constraints on government power no longer apply. So what if innocents like Mayfield – and who knows how many others – are trampled underfoot? You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs: isn’t that what the Marxists used to say in defense of the Soviet gulags?

Don’t worry – you’ll get used to it.

The feds were worried that the media had leaked their suspicions to Mayfield, and that he would flee before they could get their hands on him:

“So surveillance that was just beginning was abruptly halted and he was arrested before investigators had fully examined his telephone records, before they knew if Mayfield had ever traveled to Spain or elsewhere overseas and before they knew if he had ever met with anyone suspected in the bombing. His relatives said he had not been out of the United States for 10 years.”

Vicious, and stupid – that’s the best one can say about John Ashcroft and his crew of Justice Department Torquemadas. And the same goes for the neocons, who hailed the Mayfield arrest as the coming of the New Neocon Order, and richly deserve the fall that is coming….

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].