June 16, 2005
On high profile arrests in Lodi, CA
By Khalid Saeed
Terrorism is a concern for all Americans regardless of their race color or religion. We all want our homeland safe and secure for all.
Five individuals, including a Pakistani-born father and his US-born son, were arrested in the farming town of Lodi, California a few days ago. The father and the son, both US citizens, were initially accused of plotting terrorist activities in the United States. However, in the last few days many of the more serious charges against Umer Hayat, the father, and Hamid Hayat, the son have been dropped. Three other Pakistanis were arrested for alleged immigration violations.
After the high profile arrests with intensive TV, Radio and print media coverage, the Los Angeles Times revealed that that “Those details — among the most alarming in the case — were widely reported in the press but then deleted in the final version of affidavit filed with the federal court in Sacramento.” Under the title, “Affidavit Changed in Terrorism Accusation: The FBI version filed in court lacks several prominent details in the publicized original,” the Los Angeles Times reported that the affidavit filed Thursday (June 7) did not contain any of the sensation material from earlier in the week which said the son's "potential terrorist targets included hospitals and groceries, and contained names of key individuals and statements about the international origins of 'hundreds' of participants in alleged Al Qaeda terrorist training camps in Pakistan."
Although the Justice Department spokesman Bryan Sierra attributed this serious lapse to an “unfortunate oversight due to miscommunication, “the defense attorney Johnny L. Griffin III, who represents the father, 47-year-old Lodi ice cream truck driver Umer Hayat, accused the government of "releasing information it knew it could not be authenticate”."
Legal experts pointed out that due to these changes in the FBI affidavit “the perception of the defendants in the minds of potential jurors may have been irrevocably affected." Hence, such a negative perception could make it virtually impossible for the accused to receive a fair trial.
An important development in the Lodi arrests is that Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, on June11, denied that there are terrorist camps in Pakistan Aziz said he had asked Pakistan's embassy in Washington for details of the FBI's allegations. At the same time, terrorism experts noted that Rawalpindi is an unlikely location for such camps because it is the site of both President Pervez Musharraf's official residence and the Pakistani army's general headquarters.
All these developments give a very hazy picture of the high profile Lodi arrests. As I said earlier, security of our homeland is a priority for all Americans which include American Muslims. However, high profile arrests of Muslims in a terrorist probe – which create fear in the fellow Americans and terrorize the Muslim community - often end in minor charges and do not make our homeland more safe.
The Washington Post report of June 12 affirms this observation. The Post said that only 39 people and not 200, as officials have implied, were convicted of crimes related to terrorism or national security since the introduction of Patriot Act. “Most of the others were convicted of relatively minor crimes such as making false statements and violating immigration law -- and had nothing to do with terrorism, the analysis shows.”
At the same time the security agencies are using Immigration law as a tool in the terrorism cases. According to the Washington Post (June 13) “in the past two years, officials have filed immigration charges against more than 500 people who have come under scrutiny in national security investigations, according to previously undisclosed government figures.” Some are ultimately found to have no terrorism ties, officials acknowledge.
Whereas terrorism charges can be difficult to prosecute, Homeland Security officials say immigration laws can provide a quick, easy way to detain people who could be planning attacks. Authorities have also used routine charges such as overstaying a visa to deport suspected supporters of terrorist groups. "It's an incredibly important piece of the terrorism response," said Michael J. Garcia, who heads Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.
Saad Ahmed, the attorney for three Pakistani citizens - two Lodi religious leaders, Muhammad Adil Khan and Shabbir Ahmed, and Khan's 19-year-old son, Muhammad Hassan Adil Khan - held on immigration was right when he said that his clients, their families and the Pakistani community have been tarnished by the association of his clients with the terrorist investigation.
It is obvious that the authorities are enforcing minor violations by Muslims and Arabs, while ignoring millions of other immigrants who flout the same laws. "The approach is basically to target the Muslim and Arab community with a kind of zero-tolerance immigration policy. No other community in the U.S. is treated to zero-tolerance enforcement," according to David Cole, a Georgetown University law professor. And just to remind you, there more than seven million undocumented immigrants living in the country, according to an official report.
Khalid Saeed is the American Muslim Voice Director for Northern California.