As our government concentrates on fighting a "war on terrorism" in the distant battlefields of Iraq, what about the real war on terrorism the effort to track down and neutralize al-Qaeda operatives in the U.S.? After all, that last warning from Osama bin Laden, in which he implied that another 9/11 is in the works, was pretty ominous.
The entire rationale for our foreign policy of unremitting aggression is based on the laughable premise that "we’re fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here." The logical fallacy here is too obvious to point out: suffice to say that the U.S. government is making every effort to make it appear as if they’re hot on the trail of those who dream of topping the record set by Mohammed Atta and his gruesome crew. There was, of course, the Jose Padilla case, in which Attorney General John Ashcroft held high the head of this Latino gangbanger-turned-Islamist as proof that the administration was on the job. Another feather in the administration’s anti-terrorist cap was the show trial of the Lodi defendants, two Pakistani Muslims living in the rural California town along with a substantial population of their fellow Pakistanis.
The arrest and trial of Hamid Hayat, a 22-year-old naturalized American citizen from Pakistan, and his father, Umer, was touted as a great victory in the Justice Department’s campaign to root out the Terrorist Threat on Our Soil. The only problem is, the likelihood that either of them ever had anything to do with al-Qaeda, or terrorist threats against the U.S., is nil. In a long article by Mark Arax in the Los Angeles Times, we learn the whole sordid story of how these two uneducated agricultural workers were singled out, and basically framed, by federal prosecutors out for scalps any scalps for political reasons.
The piece details how James Wedick, Jr., a 35-year veteran of the FBI, came to disbelieve the government’s case against the Lodi defendants and demonstrates how a biased judge, and an atmosphere of hysteria and intimidation, convicted the two in spite of their obvious innocence. Prevented from testifying at the trial by the government’s legal maneuvering, Wedick gets his story out in this piece a tale of a paid snitch, two hapless immigrants, and the domestic political uses of Muslim-bashing in the post-9/11 era.
Wedick’s involvement came when one of the defense team sent him a video of what was supposed to be Hamid’s taped confession. Five hours of interrogation, and before the show was over Wedick was sitting there open-mouthed at how unconvincing it all was. The interrogators were answering their own questions, telegraphing the desired replies, and inducing their weary and frightened victim to go along for the ride. The transcriptions published in the Times are pathetic: if anyone thinks this sort of nonsense is going to "win" the "war on terrorism," they are living in fantasyland.
Rife with contradictions and murky as to important details, this "confession" was the centerpiece of the prosecution’s case: the somewhat fancifully told story of how Hamid supposedly went to Pakistan and trained at a terrorist training camp, where, as the Times puts it,
"He had been trained there with Kalashnikov rifles and curved swords and target dummies wearing the faces of Bush and Rumsfeld. He was awaiting instructions, via a letter in his mailbox, to bomb hospitals and supermarkets in California’s heartland. In the meantime, he was packing Bing cherries on the outskirts of town."
This tall tale was presented with a straight face, and, I might add, without any corroborating evidence. So how did they come to focus on these two obscure figures in the unlikely spot of Lodi? A paid government informant, who garnered at least $250,000 from the deal, Naseem Khan spoke fluent Urdu and Pashto, as well as perfect English. He had ingratiated himself with the local imams, later implicated in the supposed "terrorist plot," and also with Hamid.
Isolated and basically friendless, caught between two worlds America, his adopted home, and Pakistan Hamid welcomed this person 10 years his senior as a kind of mentor. Naseem was always there, urging him down the path to jihad. As the Times reports:
"They spoke in their native tongue and in English, but Khan wasn’t much of a talker. That he was considerably more comfortable asking questions might have been Hamid’s first clue. Yet the kid was so desperate for someone to take him seriously that he didn’t seem to notice how Khan always steered their conversation to the same place.
"’I’m going to fight jihad,’ Khan declared. ‘You don’t believe, huh?’
"’No man, these days there’s no use in doing that. Listen, these days we can’t go into Afghanistan. The American CIA is there.’
"As for the training camps, Hamid said he had seen one on a video, and it demanded far too much out of its students. Forty days of training. Guard vigil all night. Push-ups in the cold morning. Bazooka practice. ‘Man, if I had a gun, friend, I wouldn’t be able to shoot it,’ he said."
Some "terrorist"! But Khan was persistent:
"Over the next six months, Khan would record more than 40 hours of conversations with Hamid and his father, mostly in the privacy of their home. As a job, confidential witness for the FBI’s war on terror paid well more than $225,000 and Khan threw himself into the part with such ardor that he looked more FBI than the agents themselves. Still, it wasn’t easy doing this to your own people, especially to a kid who kept referring to him as his ‘older brother’ and to a father who now called Khan his ‘other son.’ Khan replied in kind: ‘If you’ve accorded me the position of a son, then you’re no less than my honored father.'”
When Hamid went back to Pakistan to find a wife, Khan called him and berated him for not joining a madrassa and embarking on the road to jihad. The reluctant 20-something, however, didn’t show much enthusiasm for such a career choice, but was susceptible to his mentor’s suggestion. When the government finally sprang its trap, the hapless Hamid and his father, who had welcomed the snake into their homes, found themselves facing a veritable lynch mob as popular hatred of all things Muslim was stoked by this story of "terrorists" in California farm country.
The trial was a farce. The government’s evidence was so thin that jurors had to be browbeaten into delivering a guilty verdict against Hamid, while the jury deadlocked over the charges against Umer and his case was declared a mistrial. Government prosecutors vowed to retry the case, and crowed that the verdict against Hamid up to 39 years in prison on two counts of making false statements to the FBI and one of giving “material support” to terrorists was a major blow to al-Qaeda.
Poppycock. A top White House aide once told writer Ron Suskind that this administration was "creating reality," rather than merely reacting to it, and that Suskind, a journalist, was handicapped on account of his membership in "the reality-based community." This was said in regard to the administration’s foreign policy, but we can see, from the above example, that the Justice Department has applied the same principle to the legal realm.
The great danger, here, is that somewhere, the real al-Qaeda is lurking, planning, and waiting for its chance and our clueless Keystone Kops go after fantasy "terrorists" like young Hamid and his father, whose only "crime" was to let a government informant into their lives. And when the real al-Qaeda strikes again, all the prosecutions of faux "terrorists" won’t shield U.S. government officials and law enforcement from taking the blame. The great tragedy is that who knows how many people will have to die and otherwise suffer because, once again, our rulers didn’t do the one job they are legitimately charged with doing: protecting us from attack.