The media have been reporting on the lawsuit filed by Brandon Mayfield who was arrested by the FBI last year in connection with the Madrid train bombings. It was believed that his finger print matched that found on detonators. He was later released with an apology from the FBI.
Mr Mayfield's lawsuit follows the release of an FBI email in which it was stated that there was insufficient evidence to arrest him on criminal charges. He was detained instead as a material witness.
Mr. Mayfield alleges that his arrest was motivated by his being a Muslim. His claim is that his constitutional rights were violated by the arrest and the wiretapping of his telephone.
My purpose is not to offer speculation with regard to the likelihood that Mr. Mayfield will prevail in his suit against the government nor to attempt to assess the merits of his claims. My purpose is to raise a question fundamental to the ongoing concern over homeland security in an age of global terrorism: Can the American people be provided security while safeguarding their liberty? If Mr. Mayfield's civil suit has value to the larger society it is in its protential to provoke careful consideration of the limits of liberty in a dangerous world.
Americans value their open society and the rights and freedoms that it affords them. The interpretation of the Constitution has generally increased individual liberty and extended new rights such as the right to privacy. There is a price that is paid for the provision and safeguarding of liberty, however. It is the insecurity that comes from affording those same rights to those who intend to commit criminal acts.
Americans have come to expect a certain amount of criminal behavior in their midst because it generally does not threaten their lives or liberties. We are content to utilize taxes to pay for a system of police protection and justice that offers reasonably good assurance that wrong-doers will be caught and punished but at the same time affords protections against unwarranted investigations and false arrest. For the most part, citizens have come to expect that their enjoyment of their individual liberty is worth the cost of a measure of insecurity and criminality. They have implicitly rejected alternative societal models that are more restrictive such as is found in Singapore.