To escort him from Frankfurt, get his bags through customs and bear witness to what inevitably will occur, Pete Seda has enlisted Tom Nelson, a 63-year-old semiretired lawyer who became a Muslim 15 years ago and keeps a small office in a strip mall off Highway 26 in Welches. As one of the few Oregonians who practice both law and Islam, Nelson has become a kind of legal first-responder to those Oregon Muslims who have become swept up in the Bush administration’s war on terrorism. When FBI agents imprisoned Portland lawyer Brandon Mayfield for two weeks and falsely accused him of masterminding the Madrid bombings in 2004 based on a botched fingerprint analysis, Mayfield sought Nelson’s legal advice.
Nelson and Seda meet each other in person for the first time in the international arrivals terminal at Flughafen Frankfurt am Main. Seda, a svelte middle-aged man, 5 feet 8 inches tall and at most 150 pounds, sports a trim, gray-frosted black beard and a disarming grin so broad it creases the crow’s-feet around his eyes. He’s dressed like the laborer he used to be, in canvas pants and work shirt, and pushes a cart laden with three enormous suitcases that contain most of his worldly possessions. Nelson is a white-bearded grandfather in snakeskin cowboy boots and too-large blue jeans that are held above his waist with a braided Indian belt, a “Democracy Now!” baseball cap jammed over his receding gray hair. They clap each other on the back, touch cheeks—first right, then left—in the Muslim gesture of welcome.
“As-salaamu alaikum, brother!”
On the plane to Portland, Seda is seated between Nelson and a U.S. soldier returning home from a tour in Iraq. Over the next 11 hours, as the plane crosses the Atlantic and then the United States, the wanted man and the man decked out in combat boots and desert camouflage bond. Seda talks about getting back into the business of pruning trees. The soldier, a minesweeping specialist, pulls out a laptop and shows Seda videos of the roadside bombs he detonated before they could do any harm.
Soon after they touch down in Portland, Nelson and Seda file down the gangway and follow the exodus into immigration, a brightly lit room where bleary-eyed passengers shuffle through a maze of nylon barriers. When Seda hands his passport to the immigration agent, he expects federal officers to swoop down on him. Instead, the agent waves him on.
Nelson helps Seda collect his suitcases from the luggage carousel, and together they file into the customs queue. It’s beginning to look like Seda just may walk out into Portland a free man. Nelson steps up to the customs officer first, announces he has nothing to declare, and is ordered out of the area when he tries to linger. Arguing that he’s an attorney accompanying a fugitive, Nelson searches for his friend among the sea of passengers’ faces. But it’s already happened.
“Pirouz Sedaghaty? I have a warrant for your arrest…”