[Katherine: This is an excellent article that I highly recommend. The author gives an in depth analysis of what is happening across the country in many of the so called terrorist prosecutions. It also specifically addresses Mulsims who are targeted for being Salafi.]

The United States is now prosecuting suspected terrorists on the basis of their intentions, not just their actions. But in the case of Islamic extremists, how can American jurors fairly weigh words and beliefs when Muslims themselves can’t agree on what they mean?

by Amy Waldman theatlantic.com October 2006

At the age of twenty-two, Hamid Hayat appeared to be adrift on two continents. He slacked, by turns, in his hometown of Lodi, California, and in his family’s home country, Pakistan. Having lived for roughly equal amounts of time in each, he seemed without direction in either. But on June 5, 2005, the young American offered up alarming evidence of personal initiative: after hours of questioning at the FBI’s Sacramento office, he confessed that he had attended a terrorist training camp in Pakistan and returned to the United States to wage jihad. In quick succession came his arrest, a packed press conference, and his indictment–and suddenly, it was all over but the trial.

Hayat’s case presented a peculiar challenge for the prosecution, which needed to show not just that he had trained in Pakistan and concealed doing so, but that he had intended to commit terrorism. Yet the only direct proof of any of this was Hayat’s videotaped confession, which was as irresolute as his life. The slender, deferential young man repeatedly contradicted himself. He parroted the answers that agents suggested. And the details of any terrorist plan were scant and fuzzy.

The government said that its direct evidence was limited because it had intercepted Hayat so early in the process. “This is not a case where a building has been blown up, and, you know, the forensic investigators go in, they go looking through the rubble looking for clues,” one prosecutor, David Deitch, told jurors. “This isn’t that kind of case. This is a charge that allows the FBI to prevent acts of violence like that.” Would Americans, he asked, want any less?

To prove intent, then, the government had to turn to the rubble of Hayat’s life–an accretion of circumstantial but ugly evidence that prosecutors said proved “a jihadi heart and a jihadi mind.” There were Hayat’s words, taped by an informant, in which he praised the murder and mutilation of the journalist Daniel Pearl: “They killed him–I’m so pleased about that. They cut him into pieces and sent him back … That was a good job they did–now they can’t send one Jewish person to Pakistan.” There was what the prosecution called Hayat’s “frequently expressed hatred toward the United States”; his comment that his heart “belongs to Pakistan”; his description of President Bush as “the worm.” There was, at his house, literature by a virulent Pakistani militant and a scrapbook of clippings celebrating both the Taliban and sectarian violence.

And folded in his wallet was a scrap of paper on which was written a squib of Arabic. Prosecutors first translated the words as “Lord, let us be at their throats, and we ask you to give us refuge from their evil,” and then amended it, after the defense protested, to “Oh Allah, we place you at their throats, and we seek refuge in you from their evil.” But regardless of the translation, the interpretation of what the government called the “jihadist note” never changed. The prosecution cited it as “probative evidence” that Hayat had “the requisite jihadist intent” when he attended the training camp and then returned to America.

The note became a kind of leitmotif in the case. Weighing a request for bail by Hayat’s father, who had been charged with lying about his son’s training, U.S. Magistrate Judge Gregory G. Hollows wrote:

The allegations depict Hamid as one who would be ruthless in his disregard for human life if and when ordered to do so on account of a “religious” philosophy. Although religion can form the basis of mankind’s most noble deeds, it can also have the effect attributed to it by Pascal: “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.” The scrap of paper found in Hamid’s wallet certainly speaks to the latter category.

An expert witness for the prosecution testified that the prayer would be carried around, as a prosecutor recapped, “by a holy warrior, a violent jihadi, who felt himself to be traveling in an enemy land, and who was ready to commit violent jihad.” That exposition resonated with at least some jurors, who speculated that the paper might be Hayat’s graduation certificate from the terrorist training camp. The prayer encapsulated everything they feared about the power and danger of religious conviction, and it helped ensure, after a ten-week trial, Hayat’s criminal conviction.

Full article: theatlantic.com