The Justice Department has launched two internal investigations into the arrest of Oregon lawyer Brandon Mayfield, who was detained by the FBI earlier this year because of a faulty fingerprint analysis that wrongly linked him to the deadly terrorist bombings in Madrid, according to a report released yesterday.
Inspector General Glenn A. Fine is investigating the FBI's conduct in the case, including whether Mayfield was targeted in part because of his Muslim beliefs, according to a report to Congress released by Fine's office. Separately, the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility is examining the role of federal prosecutors in the case, the report said.
The FBI publicly apologized to Mayfield in May after admitting it had erroneously matched his fingerprint to a latent print found on a bag of bomb detonators linked to the Madrid train bombings, which killed 191 people on March 11. Spanish authorities first raised doubts about the FBI's judgment and ultimately identified the print as belonging to an Algerian man.
Mayfield, a convert to Islam, spent two weeks in jail. Fine's office is investigating his complaint that "the FBI inappropriately conducted a surreptitious search of his home based on the faulty fingerprint analysis and potentially motivated by his Muslim faith and ties to the Muslim community," the report said.
The disclosure of the internal probes was included in a broader report that details investigations of alleged civil rights and civil liberties abuses by the Justice Department under the USA Patriot Act, the controversial anti-terrorism law approved after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The legislation allows Fine to investigate such complaints if they involve Justice employees or contractors.
Fine said his office received more than 1,600 complaints during the six months ended June 21 but only 13 required additional investigation. More than 1,400 of the complaints were considered frivolous, did not involve the Justice Department or were outside Fine's jurisdiction.
Rep. John Conyers Jr. (Mich.), ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said Mayfield's case illustrates the government's abuse of secrecy rules.
"Were it not for the Spanish government and its persistence, [Attorney General] John Ashcroft would still be holding Brandon Mayfield," Conyers said in a statement. "What this tells us is that, without open and accountable government, we will never know how many people have had their rights violated by federal agents, and how many people are held without charges today."
Conyers also disclosed yesterday that Ashcroft spent more than $200,000 in taxpayer money on trips to 32 cities in August and September 2003 to drum up support for the Patriot Act.
A new Government Accountability Office study of the trips found that Ashcroft and his staff spent more than $77,000 for air transportation, according to congressional staffers who have been briefed on the findings. Nearly $40,000 was spent on hotels and other travel expenses, and U.S. attorney's offices spent more than $80,000 for conference room rentals and other costs, the staff members said.
Justice officials told the GAO they did not keep track of some costs, including meetings between federal prosecutors and lawmakers about Patriot Act legislation. The report is scheduled to be released this week.