Nearly 13 years after the FBI managed to turn a California cherry picker into a international terrorist, one of its self-created terrorists is about to be turned back into regular California resident, albeit one missing more than a decade from his life.
Hayat went to Pakistan in 2003 to visit his mother and get married. The FBI and prosecutors insisted he went there to train to be a terrorist. When he returned to the US, he was arrested and indicted. Prosecutors tacked on some lying to federal agents charges because of course they did, pushing Hayat's sentence to 24 years.
This conviction was upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals but Hayat's motion to vacate his sentence has found some sympathy from a federal magistrate judge.
A federal magistrate on Friday recommended overturning the controversial 2006 conviction of a California man accused of attending a terrorist training camp in Pakistan and plotting an attack in the United States.
Hamid Hayat, now 36, who was then a young cherry-picker from Lodi, has served about half his 24-year sentence.
But U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah Barnes said he likely never would have been convicted were it not for the inexperience of his defense attorney, who failed to call alibi witnesses.
Hayat's lawyer was clearly inexperienced, having never defended a client during a criminal trial before. The results speak for themselves. Judge Barnes' examination of the case shows Hayat was possibly coerced into a false confession and had a decent alibi for his visit to Pakistan that -- if explored more fully -- would likely have shown the FBI's speculations about his reason for returning to Pakistan were wrong.
His attorneys argue that much of the evidence used against him was faulty, including prosecution claims that Hayat attended a terror training camp in Balakot, Pakistan, in 2003 and 2004 – a facility they say had been shut down before Hayat even got to Pakistan.
Hayat's confession was obtained during a "marathon" questioning session by FBI agents. This apparently included a special agent lying about the evidence the FBI had on Hayat's supposed terrorist training.
According to court testimony, the Hayats were interviewed twice by the FBI. The first time, they both denied they knew anything about terrorism. But during a second interview at Sacramento FBI headquarters, after many hours of grilling without a lawyer, Hamid Hayat changed his story and confessed he attended a terrorist training camp for about three months. The jury asked for a read-back of FBI Special Agent Harry Sweeney’s trial testimony.
Sweeney testified that Hamid Hayat admitted to going to the camp after Sweeney asked him, “Would there be any reason why we would have a satellite image of you at a camp in 2003?”
Under cross-examination, Sweeney acknowledged there was no such photo.
Unfortunately, there's nothing illegal about federal agents lying to suspects during questioning. But there's certainly a law against lying to federal agents. The background of the case suggests the FBI may have been looking for something -- anything -- to justify its infiltration of a local mosque by one its surprisingly-expensive informants.
Naseem Khan claimed to have seen four of the world's most-wanted terrorists in Lodi, California. Over the course of three years, the FBI paid Khan $230,000 to infiltrate a local mosque, despite discovering his claims of seeing top world terrorists were completely false. It was Khan who suggested Hayat visit a terrorist training camp while visiting Pakistan. The government apparently had no evidence Hayat ever visited a training camp, relying almost solely on a confession that appears to have been coerced.
The court says there's not much here that makes the FBI look like a competent anti-terrorism force. There's a questionable confession, an even more questionable informant telling people to engage in terrorist activities, and a bunch of speculation about Hayat's activities while not under direct surveillance. As the judge points out, citizens shouldn't be locked up for things the FBI THINKS they may have done. More evidence is needed and a more competent attorney might have been able to stop this farce before it took more than a decade away from Hamid Hayat.