Hayat Terror Conviction Upheld

Case raises the question: Are civilian or military courts best for prosecuting terrorism?

A three-judge panel of the Ninth U.S Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the 2006 conviction of Hamid Hayat on terrorism charges. The Ninth Circuit is the most liberal appeals court and the majority opinion came from liberal judges Mary M. Schroeder and Marsha S. Berzon. They ruled that U.S. District Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr. had handled the Hayat case properly.

McGregor Scott, the U.S. Attorney in Sacramento at the time of the prosecution, told reporters that “Hamid Hayat remains a terrorist convicted in the open courts of this country.” He cited a guilty verdict, denial of a motion for a new trial, and now the appeal ruling as evidence that the prosecution was “righteous” and the result “just.”

Hayat, now serving a 24-year sentence, was born in the United States but spent half his life in Pakistan where he attended terrorist training camps. The court found him guilty on four counts of providing material support to terrorists. His father, Umer Hayat, also of Lodi, California, pleaded guilty to a lesser charge not connected to his son’s case and served 11 months.

Judge A. Wallace Tashima, dissenter in the Ninth Circuit ruling, said some of the evidence could be considered “laughable,” and that the case is “a stark demonstration of the unsettling and untoward consequences of the government’s use of anticipatory prosecution as a weapon in the ‘war on terrorism.’” The Ninth Circuit ruling also disturbed Shirin Sinnar, assistant professor of law at Stanford, who wrote that the case raises “the haunting prospect that a man who had done nothing was convicted for a violent state of mind.” A further appeal to the full Ninth Circuit, whose rulings are frequently overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, is reportedly in the works.

The Hayat case marks a stark contrast to the military proceedings against Nidal Hasan, the U.S. Army psychiatrist who in 2009 at Fort Hood, Texas, killed 13 Americans, more victims than the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, and wounded more than 30 others while yelling “Allah is great.” Hasan was a high-profile jihadist and in contact with terrorists such as American-born al-Qaeda recruiter Anwar al-Awlaki. Yet the U.S. Defense Department ruled Hasan’s actions not as terrorism but a case of “workplace violence.” That renders Hasan’s victims ineligible for awards and what they regard as fair compensation for their injuries. A terrorism ruling would give victims broader access to medical and retirement benefits similar to those injured in combat. The Coalition of the Fort Hood Heroes wants equal treatment and is demanding a formal apology from the government.

Based on the Hayat case, it might have been better to try Nidal Hasan in U.S. civilian courts. Their anticipatory prosecution of Hamid Hayat, a man who said he trained to kill Americans, could well have prevented mass murder. On the other hand, the military prosecution of Nidal Hasan came after he had murdered 13 victims. The case drags on, entangled in issues such as Hasan’s right to wear a beard.

Major Hasan used privately purchased handguns in his Fort Hood rampage. Yet president Obama and Senator Dianne Feinstein did not use Hasan’s death spree to show the need for more gun control.

The Hayat case raised issues of FBI informants infiltrating mosques. FBI officials in California acknowledged a “climate of tension” between Muslims and the bureau. The FBI duly presented its Community Leadership Award to Imam Mohamed Abdul-Azeez, spiritual leader of the Sacramento Area League of Associated Muslims (SALAM) Islamic center. Special agent Drew Parenti said “The award is for preventing violence, creating understanding, bringing people together …”

SALAM co-hosts events with CAIR but next month the FBI will give its Community Service Award to SALAM chairman Farrukh Saeed. FBI special agent Herb Brown said, “I think if anyone at SALAM knew anything about (potential) terrorism, they would come to us at the FBI.”

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