[Ppnews] FBI "witch-hunt" in Lodi

PPnews at freedomarchives.org PPnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Jun 23 08:43:33 EDT 2005


Dear all,

Thank you so very much for all your supporting emails, telephone calls and 
offer to help the Muslim community in this difficult time.  I have been 
thinking about writing something about "Lodi terrorism case" but was unable 
to do so because I could see the same card played over and over again. Our 
administration is creating a culture of fear, division, anger, frustration, 
confusion and hate so they can expand their agenda.

I would like to assure you that I am very concern about the safety and 
security of our country, I live here, my friends, family members and 
children live here but scapegoating the entire community is not the route 
we should be taking. As I learned more about the case it became Crystal 
clear that the Muslims and Arabs are not granted the same rights that our 
Constitution guarantees for all of its citizens. Over two weeks have passed 
and so far both Hamid and Umer have been charged only with lying to federal 
investigators about Hamid's visit to Pakistan in 2003.

Please read the report written by Sunaina Maira ( a friend and partner in 
struggle for justice )and Veena Dubal, activists, on their trip to Lodi 
after the Hayat arrests.

Thanks,
Samina

PS. Both imams cases would be heard in San Francisco and I will need help 
from all of you to fill up the court room for support and solidarity. We 
will keep you posted. <http://www.amuslimvoice.org/>www.amuslimvoice.org.

The FBI "witch-hunt" in Lodi

By Veena Dubal and Sunaina Maira

On June 7Th 2005, national and international media attention focused on the 
small, agricultural town of Lodi, located approximately forty miles south 
of Sacramento. The FBI arrested and detained two individuals, both 
Pakistani-Americans, who they suspected had AL-Qaeda affiliations.

The investigation was presented as a "terrorism case" by the government and 
news sources.  The initial affidavit released to the media said that 
U.S.-born Hamid Hayat, had attended a terror-training camp in Pakistan 
along with "hundreds" of other terrorists, and returned to the US intending 
to "attack . . . hospitals and large food stores."  This kind of detail 
resulted in a flood of sensationalized media coverage, portraying 23-year 
old Hamid as a prospective mass murder and his father, Umer Hayat, a 
47-year old ice cream truck driver,  as the financial supporter and 
mastermind of an alleged "Lodi terrorist cell".
Neither allegation, however, was in the affidavit filed with a federal 
court in Sacramento the same day.

The FBI retracted their affidavit alleging Hamid's plot to attack domestic 
targets and began downplaying the seriousness of the presumed threat the 
men posed. Both Hamid and Umer were ultimately charged only with lying to 
federal investigators about Hamid's visit to Pakistan in 2003.

Three other Muslim men from Lodi, among them two respected imams, were also 
detained on suspected visa violations.  One of the imams had actually been 
the target of FBI surveillance beginning three years ago when a secret 
court used the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to approve 
wiretapping of Mohammed Adil Khan.

While the Justice Department has maintained that it was not deliberately 
trying to precipitate an anti-Muslim witch hunt, the difference between the 
two affidavits - the one released to the media and the one filed in court - 
as well as recent FBI activity in Lodi, speak a different story.  None of 
the five men have been charged with carrying out or planning to commit any 
act of violence.

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.

After handing out "Know Your Rights" fliers to community members who have 
been repeatedly questioned, we went to visit the Lodi mosque that is under 
FBI scrutiny.  The mosque is a small, humble structure - a former Jehovah's 
Witness church - next to the cannery where Pakistani men have worked as 
fruit packers, in some cases for more than thirty years.  South Asian and 
Latino children were
playing basketball together across from the mosque while older South Asian 
men sat on the grass, presumably relaxing after a long day's work.

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 government's investigation in Lodi has been conducted in a way that 
does not respect the legal rights and dignity of the Muslim 
community:  individuals have been systematically discouraged from 
exercising their right to an attorney and have been disallowed access to 
attorneys; there has been at least one detention of an individual who was 
not read his Miranda warnings; and women and children have been intimidated 
and denied medical care.  Perhaps equally disturbing, however, is that the 
general public has been given new reason to fear South Asians and Muslims 
as presumed terrorists.  A community that has made this area home for over 
one hundred years has been investigated, intimidated, and cast under a 
shroud of suspicion, all within days.

Veena Dubal is a JD/PhD student at the University of California at 
Berkeley, Boalt Hall, and Sunaina Maira is an Associate Professor of Asian 
American Studies at the University of California at Davis.  Both are 
volunteers with the SF Bay Area organization, ASATA - Alliance of South 
Asians Taking Action.

The Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 863-9977
www.freedomarchives.org 
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