In America, to be convicted as a terrorist, it is no longer necessary to prove that you have commited a terrorist act. Nor is it necessary to show that you intended to commit a terrorist act. All that is necessary is to show that you have a jihadist heart.

If you doubt me, than perhaps you haven’t heard of the case of Hamid Hayat of Lodi, Calif., who was convicted of giving material aid to terrorists because he had, in the words of the prosecutor’s closing argument, “a jihadi heart and a jihadi mind.”

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SACRAMENTO — The government had no direct evidence. The confession was vague and even contradictory. And the statements about attacking American targets came only after heavy prompting from FBI interrogators.

But what the three federal prosecutors could — and did — show convincingly was that 23-year-old Hamid Hayat of Lodi, Calif., espoused strong anti-American sentiments, supported militant Muslim political parties in Pakistan and had a romantic attachment to the idea of jihad.

A “romantic attachment to the idea of jihad” is not something of which I approve. Just as I strongly disapprove of of the point of view which claims that the US invasion was justified because it was part of the greater global struggle against terror. Both is a point of views are all to easily turned to justify the murder of innocent people. Both opinions are equally false, and equally misguided. Holding such opinions, however, is a not crime. At least, it didn’t use to be a crime.

The proof of Hayat’s views were a teenage scrapbook, a slip of paper inscribed with a warrior’s prayer in Arabic, books about jihadi martyrs, and Hayat’s own boastful comments secretly recorded by a man he thought was his best friend but who turned out to be a paid FBI informant.

After they established Hayat’s mind-set, the prosecutors were able to overcome key obstacles: the flawed confession and nagging credibility issues with the informant. The informant’s unsubstantiated claim that he had seen Osama bin Laden’s top deputy in Lodi was used repeatedly to undermine him during the nine-week trial.

In interviews, several jurors said Hayat’s confession and evidence of what jury foreman Joe Cote, a 64-year-old retired salesman from Folsom, Calif., called “un-Americanism” convinced them that he posed a danger.

Cote said the Arabic prayer Hayat carried in his wallet, translated by a government expert as “Oh Allah, we place you at their throats, and we seek refuge in you from their evil,” was especially influential with jurors.

“It carried a lot of weight,” Cote said. “A supplication is only carried in the country of the enemy. He would never carry it in Pakistan. Even though he’s an American citizen, his love and his home are in Pakistan.” […]

During the trial, no evidence was introduced suggesting that Hayat was poised to commit a terrorist act. The facts seemed to point in the opposite direction.

His father, mother, younger brother and a sister were all back in the United States after a two-year sojourn in Pakistan. Hayat had recently married and talked hopefully about bringing his new bride to Lodi, the Central Valley town where he had found a job in a cherry-packing plant.

Asked during his interrogation how he would receive orders to attack, Hayat, a junior high school dropout whose understanding of English is limited, answered hesitatingly: “Maybe, uh, send a letter or anything like that, maybe.”

But McGregor Scott, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of California, said in an interview Friday that the case against Hayat was short on the standard elements of proof because the crime had not yet happened.

“In the post-9/11 context,” Scott said, “law enforcement has been given a mission by the president and the attorney general to prevent deadly acts before they occur. That is the new paradigm for law enforcement.”

Just consider that last part. It’s chilling. The “new paradigm for law enforcement” is to convict people before they commit any crime, merely on the chance that they might in the future, based on their beliefs. I’m sure from a law enforcement perspective, that’s a very good thing. We have a preventative war doctrine after all, so why not preventative law enforcemment? But from a civil liberties standpoint, from the standpoint of a country which enshrined in the US Constitution its belief that all human beings have the right to say and think whatever they please, it’s a very, bad thing indeed.

Perhaps its not surprising that Hayat was convicted of having unpatriotic thoughts. We are the country, after all, that put innocent Japanese-Americans into dentention centers during WWII because we feared they might think they owed a greater loyalty to the Emperor of Japan than to the US flag. But at least the frightened Americans who put their fellow citizens in concentration camps for the duration of that war didn’t have the hypocrisy of actually trying and convicting their fellow citizens of any crime. Hamid Hayat’s only crime was holding opinions and beliefs that other Americans, in the secrecy of the jury room, found threatening.

Personally, I find many people in America hold views of which I am legitimately fearful. White Supremacists hold the view that I am a race traitor who should be shot because I married a woman of Japanese descent, and, even worse, had children with her, thus diluting my precious racial heritage. Certain white southerners celebrate their heritage by flying the Confederate flag, a symbol as disloyal and unpatriotic as they come, and racist to the core, celebrating a time and a place and a people which believed holding human beings in slavery was more important than any loyalty they owed to their country.

Many people think that we should patrol our border with Mexico and shoot any brown skinned person we see trying to come into our country illegally, or not. Some people hold the opinion that homosexuality is a sin and should result in the execution of all who practice it, as they do in Iran. Others, that science is the pawn of the Devil. Some even believe that America should be a Christian nation governed solely by biblical law. All of these opinions are, to my mind, extremely dangerous and very frightening.

I still wouldn’t want to see the people who hold them convicted of a crime, however.

We have crossed many lines in the last few years here in America of which I never thought I would live to see the day. Torture. Imprisonment without due process of law. Spying on our telephone and email communications. Secret government files on dissenters labeled as terrorist organizations. The censorship of of government scientists, and other restrictions on our rights of free speech and free association. You might think this is just one more insignificant line we have crossed.

Maybe it is. But at some point we have to have the discussion of whether we want to keep crossing these lines and continuing down this path. And it better be soon, because when we started convicting people of crimes for having unacceptable beliefs, we crossed a very dangerous line, indeed.

In my opinion.