We’ve seen this before. Sensational, well-publicized arrests of an “al-Qaeda terror cell” to reassure the public that the government is doing everything possible to protect us from terrorists lurking in our communities waiting to strike, only to be followed by emaciated charges.

Hamid Hayat & his father, Umer are both charged with lying to FBI investigators about Hamid’s attendance at a jihadist training camp in Pakistan (notably not in the tribal Waziristan province, rather, outside the Pakistani capitol). Hamid is also charged with “providing material support” to terrorists by attending the camp & returning to the U.S. Defense attorneys have pressed for a speedy trial, but the prosecution has repeatedly sought to delay the proceedings.

Prosecutors let loose a “document dump” over the past two weeks in an attempt to stave off the already delayed opening of the trial on Tuesday, Feb. 14.  This includes “over 253 compact discs and 45 audiotapes with an estimated 990 hours of secretly recorded conversations — most in foreign languages — between the Hayats and a government informant” as well as an additional mound of documents. The obvious hope was that the defense would request more time in order to sort though the material, but the strategy failed. Umer Hayat’s attorney, Johnny Griffin III, was quoted in the San Jose Mercury as saying that “we will not be seeking any types of continuances.”
The Sacramento Bee explains:

While prosecutors said their actions were necessary, one defense attorney involved in several terrorism cases elsewhere says the actions indicate a troubling pattern.

San Diego attorney Mahir T. Sherif said the government’s attitude has been to “do whatever it takes to get a conviction or get these people we are suspicious of out of the country. And if that means arresting them first and getting evidence later, so be it. That’s the tone that has been set at the top of the federal executive branch.”

The pattern, he said, is to arrest without proof beyond a reasonable doubt and, if the subjects are not deportable, then prosecutors “try to break them down to get a plea deal.”

“The government wants to be able to say it thwarted another terrorist plot,” Sherif said.   {snip}

On at least five occasions since the Hayats were first indicted June 16, prosecutors have opposed defense efforts to get a speedy trial. And the government succeeded in postponing the initial Aug. 23 trial.

When prosecutors recently suggested defense attorneys obtain security clearances – a process that would take months – the Hayats’ lawyers, Johnny Griffin III and Wazhma Mojaddidi, labeled the suggestion “insincere, unfounded and just another tactic by the government to force delays in this case.”

The defense attorneys first invoked the federal Speedy Trial Act on July 1, asking for a trial within 70 days of the Hayats’ arraignments. But, from the outset, the government opposed such requests.

The prosecutors “obviously felt they would have had a hard time proving a case had it gone to trial within 70 days,” Sherif said. “If they felt they could get a conviction by going to trial when the defense wanted to, they would not have hesitated.”

As they battled over discovery prosecutors maintained that:

they have no obligation to search for information “in the custody, possession, and control of state or local law enforcement agencies.”

Griffin, a former federal prosecutor, said the government had the responsibility to search for all relevant information about the defendants, even without the defense requests. And, he said, the government should have been ready for trial before it arrested the Hayats and fought to keep them in jail without bail.

The defense attorneys complained for months that they were not being given access in a timely fashion to information in the government’s possession.

In a heated Aug. 5 debate before Burrell, a prosecutor argued that the government could not search for and retrieve all information relative to the Hayats by the Aug. 23 trial date.

“So, if they want to push the pause button,” Griffin countered, “they want to stop (the speedy trial clock), they should dismiss the case. And if and when they’re fully prepared to honor their discovery obligation, and therefore truly announce (they are) ready for trial, then let’s try the case.”

Two months later, when prosecutors S. Robert Tice-Raskin and Laura Ferris told the judge they still were not finished searching and retrieving information from the files of various federal intelligence agencies and asked for another delay, Mojaddidi told Burrell the prosecutors were “buying time to develop a case against our clients, which they do not yet have.”     {snip}

In one motion, the prosecutors ask Burrell to order restrictions on the dissemination of unclassified information.

According to the motion, the information in question is contained in “sensitive declassified recorded conversations involving the defendants, (a) confidential witness and/or other individuals,” and in “declassified imagery which the United States intends to use at trial in this matter. This imagery is highly sensitive.”

“Disclosure of the sensitive information beyond the defense team should be precluded to avoid the risk of revealing U.S. government investigative tactics and techniques relating to both the recorded conversations and the imagery,” the motion says. “Knowledge of such tactics and techniques could be employed by others to limit the success of future use of these various techniques.”

After all the rhetoric about how the case implicates national security and classified information, prosecutors now acknowledge that their search yielded no classified documents they will use at trial.

What is classified, they say, is information needed to lay a foundation for what are described in court documents as four images of “the earth’s surface and of the objects … in the vicinity of Balakot, Pakistan.” In other words, the details of how the images were obtained and processed are classified.
Griffin and Mojaddidi have told the prosecutors and Burrell they don’t care about the details of the images’ origins, and they will not object to their admissibility. They also want the images admitted as evidence because they think it will help their clients in the eyes of the jurors.   {snip}

After more than eight months of legal wrangling over defense access to information and the timing of the trials, the case still hangs primarily on confessions the two Lodi men allegedly made to FBI agents June 4. Their attorneys say those statements were made under duress.   link

The most amusing of the prosecution’s machinations came last month when Assistant U.S. Attorney S. Robert Tice-Raskin expressed concern that the defendants might not understand that their lawyers, by declining security clearances, were giving up their right to challenge the methods used in gathering electronic & visual surveillance. It’s hard to imagine such concern in say, the Moussaoui case, but consistency of argument across venues is hardly a hallmark of Bush’s Department of Justice.

Assistant U.S. Attorney S. Robert Tice-Raskin again argued for more time, telling the judge the method used by the government to get evidence that will be presented to the jury “involves highly sensitive information” protected by federal law governing classified material.

For Griffin and Wazhma Mojaddidi, Hamid Hayat’s attorney, to challenge the method for gathering evidence, they must obtain security clearances, which could be a long process, Tice-Raskin said.

But Griffin told Burrell, “I don’t care how they got it. They showed us that piece of evidence last month, but we knew about it before they showed it to us and we want it presented to the jury. We think it helps us.”

“The government has put their cards on the table to the defense,” Griffin said. “They have given us the evidence they intend to use and an analysis of how they intend to use it.

“Based on that, we are ready to go to trial.”    link

The Hayats were arrested last June, 2005 in Lodi Ca, a small agricultural community in California’s Central Valley. Both are U.S. citizens. The June 8, 2005 headline & opening of a Sacramento Bee article reads:

Two in Lodi accused of al-Qaida links: One is suspected of being trained ‘to kill Americans’

Federal officials believe they have broken up an al-Qaida terrorist cell in Lodi and have arrested two men and detained two others as part of a wide-ranging investigation, authorities said Tuesday.

One of the men arrested, 22-year-old Hamid Hayat, is accused in a federal criminal complaint of training in an al-Qaida camp in Pakistan to learn “how to kill Americans” and then lying to FBI agents about it.

His purported training included explosives and weapons instruction and using photographs of President Bush as targets, court documents indicate.    {snip}

“Hamid advised that he specifically requested to come to the United States to carry out his Jihadi mission,” the affidavit said.

Opening lines from other articles that week include:

An investigation into what federal officials are calling an al-Qaida terrorist cell that has netted a father and son and two Muslim religious leaders widened Wednesday with the detention of a fifth member of Lodi’s Pakistani community.  [note: three others were held on immigration charges, which they were persuaded to not fight, and were deported]

“. . . as federal authorities continued Thursday to piece together a wide-ranging case they believe will show that an al-Qaida terrorist cell flourished in the Central Valley city. This piece features an expert in churning fear:

The son eventually told federal agents that he spent six months ending in 2004 at the camp where he trained to use weapons and explosives and studied anti-American ideology, according to a federal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Sacramento.

A terrorism expert said Thursday that if the allegations prove true, the confession is significant because it delivers a dangerous post-9/11 picture of a terrorist network that is adapting to survive.

The revelations Hamid Hayat made to federal investigators could mean he is one of the few to claim to have trained in a terrorist camp after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, said Brian Jenkins of the Rand Corp. in Santa Monica.

“It underscores the fact that there is still a functioning center, command and control, some entity abroad, albeit loosely organized, that is able to communicate and continues to recruit,” said Jenkins, who initiated the think tank’s terrorist research program in 1972.

Only much later in this June 10 article is it noted that “[n]o terrorist-related charges have been filed against any of the men while federal investigators continue to examine evidence seized from the men’s homes.”

Repetition & rumor are the fear-mongerers natural allies, & of course rumors were abundant after the arrests, including one that California hospitals were targeted by al-Qaeda. Note how effective the rhetorical device of paraleipsis (saying what one claims one need not say) along with repetition is in the following Bee article:

The California Department of Health Services reassured hospitals that they were not a potential target of a possible terror attack on Thursday, but it also encouraged heightened security.

In a letter faxed overnight Wednesday to 440 hospitals statewide, DHS states: “We have confirmed that there is no information regarding any specific or defined threat against hospitals.”

State health officials said they faxed the letter to counter some media reports of an affidavit in the Lodi terror probe that named hospitals as “potential targets for attack.”    {snip}

The bulletin says no “specific and credible threat exists of an al-Qaida-associated terrorist attack against hospital facilities.” It also says “U.S. hospitals offer easy public access and would be recognized by terrorist planners as easy, accessible targets.”    {snip}

“Our major concern here since the arrests Tuesday has been trying to dispel the fear that is struck in the hearts of people in this community that there were terrorists living here who were targeting hospitals,” Farron said.

Lodi Memorial, the lone hospital in town, doubled its security detail. “Not because we are overly concerned about terrorism, but because we wanted to protect our patients and staff from the media who swarmed all over the hospital,” Farron said.

As expected, it is the local muslim community most impacted by all this. Though I believe the Lodi mosque to be relatively recent, there is along established muslim-american community in California’s Central Valley. One mosque in Sacramento, 35 miles north of Lodi, will soon celebrate its hundredth anniversary.

Lodi’s Muslim community on edge after terror probe

They notice when unfamiliar cars circle the block, drivers talking on cell phones. They notice when new residents move into nearby apartments that overlook their homes and are suspicious of door-to-door salespeople.   {snip}

No one is above suspicion – not of plotting terrorist attacks, but for being a federal agent or someone working for the government.

“It’s just the fear that you’re going to get a knock on the door and a visit at work from the feds,” said Mas’ood Cajee, a San Joaquin County resident who writes a column on Muslim issues for an Internet site. “They don’t want to be caught up in any dragnet. The fear factor is that great.”    {snip}

One prominent Pakistani immigrant said the charges, which many in the Lodi Muslim community say are unfounded, amounts to a setback for Pakistani-Americans.

Taj Khan, a former Sacramento Municipal Utility District engineer, ran for Lodi City Council in 1998 and earned the backing of The Record and the Lodi News-Sentinel. He finished fifth in the nine-person race for three seats and, at the time, marveled at his newspaper endorsements.

“We wanted to bring Muslims to the mainstream system of government,” Khan said, “but this thing has pushed us back 20 years. We had a future here, and now I can’t even think of running.”   {snip}

. . . one of those who complained said the FBI used its highly visible presence to keep anyone from trying to help the Hayats’ defense.

“It was clear intimidation, having the FBI around the mosque,” said Basim Elkarra, executive director of the Council for American-Islamic Relations’ Sacramento Valley chapter. “And it affected everyone. It was intimidation, and it worked. Some people feel it was a message to other Muslims.”

Activists Veena Dubal and Sunaina Maira wrote about this climate of fear after traveling to Lodi shortly after the arrests in their article FBI “witch-hunt” in Lodi, California:

The many inconsistencies in the case and the hysteria it stoked coincided very neatly with Bush’s campaign to renew and expand the 2001 Patriot Act, which can only be justified if there was an ongoing “terrorist threat” and the public continues to fear that there are Muslim or Arab terrorists in their midst.

On June 14, we traveled up to Lodi to assess the impact of the arrests and surveillance of the local South Asian community, which is estimated to consist of over 2500 Pakistanis, some of whom have been living in the town for three generations. Basim Elkarra, Executive Director of the Sacramento office of CAIR (Council on American Islamic Relations) has been diligently organizing in response to the arrests and interrogations of local Pakistanis by FBI agents swarming into town and warned us prior to our arrival about the extent of surveillance and the fear the community felt. But no amount of warning could have prepared us for the state of near siege in the town.

As soon as we stepped out of our car in Lodi, we were made aware of the FBI’s presence. Not only is the entire Muslim community being surveilled by the FBI, which had interviewed many of its members, sometimes without an attorney present, in the days following the arrest – so are the attorneys and activists who are making sure that constitutional rights are upheld. During our brief visit with Mr. Elkarra and civil rights attorneys from the ACLU, a man with a large afro-wig in a blue SUV circled us and took photos. When we tried to approach him, he fled, only to return later to take more photographs. His conspicuous appearance made us realize the extent to which the FBI harassment is not at all a secret investigation: it is an overt act of intimidation of the community at large.

One of the attorneys we spoke to noted that the community feels “terrorized.” Residents believe that they are being interrogated by the FBI and placed under automatic suspicion because they are Muslim.

Pakistanis who attended the “Know Your Rights” workshops held by CAIR in Stockton, Lodi, and Pleasanton were all subject to obvious FBI surveillance. One Muslim mother told an attorney that her young child was followed from her home to an ice cream store by an FBI car. Others complained that they were taken out of their places of employment by the FBI for questioning and then could not return because their co-workers became suspicious of them.

The most shocking of these reports was that of an incident where the FBI stormed the Hayat home, when only women and children were present, by ramming down the front door and putting a gun to a woman’s head. When her eleven-year old daughter passed out, she was denied medical attention, a gross violation of human rights that outraged even the local emergency care personnel.   {snip}

Most of the Muslims who attend this mosque speak Pashtu and are from the Northwest Frontier area of Pakistan. Some have family that had been in the area since as early as 1908, working on the railroads. They told us that the FBI began coming to Lodi immediately after September 11th, making “friends” with mosque members. The men all seemed undaunted by the FBI siege. However, it was clear within minutes that beneath the welcoming, calm exterior, was a harassed, interrogated, and scared community.

One man described to us, without looking around, exactly where each federal agent’s car was parked; we saw the three large, black-tinted SUVs just yards from the mosque and the courts where the young boys were playing. Another middle-aged man said calmly, “Let them come ask us questions; we have nothing to hide.” While this resilience was encouraging, we were reminded by another Pakistani man who had already been questioned several times that while he did not mind speaking to the FBI, it was frightening for his wife and children. In addition, this has led to a racist backlash by some Lodi residents agitated by the lurid media reports about Islamic terrorists and sleeper cells.

The judge has ruled that the Hayat’s be tried simultaneously with two separate juries hearing the case. Jury selection begins Tuesday & will no doubt take some time. No matter how the trial turns out, it will be a long time before the muslim-american community of Lodi recovers.

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