Jury Mulls Fate of Man in Terrorist Training Case

A jury in Sacramento, Calif., on Wednesday began deliberating whether Hamid Hayat, a 23-year-old man from the mountain town of Lodi, should be convicted of attending a terrorist-training camp in Pakistan and later lying about it to the FBI. Madeleine Brand speaks with Rone Tempest, who's covering the trial for The Los Angeles Times.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From NPR News, this is DAY TO DAY. In Sacramento, California, a jury is deciding whether Hamid Hayat is a terrorist. The federal government says he attended an al-Qaida training camp in Pakistan and then lied about it. Hayat, who is from Lodi, California, says he never went to the camp, but was in Pakistan to find medical treatment for his mother, attend a religious school, and get married.

Hayat is 23-years old. His father, an ice cream vendor, is also on trial, charged with lying to the FBI about his son's activities. Los Angeles Times reporter Rone Tempest has been following the trial and he joins us now. And welcome back, Rhone.

Mr. RHONE TEMPEST (Reporter, Los Angeles Times): Thank you. Glad to be here.

BRAND: Closing arguments were yesterday. What did both sides say?

Mr. TEMPEST: I think both sides made their points pretty clearly. I think that the government produced something less than they had originally advertised in the case, but they were pretty effective, particularly the Department of Justice prosecutor David Deitch, in placing Hamid Hayat at the place they claimed was the terrorist camp. And the defense on its part continued to impugn the credibility and the integrity of the government's main witness, an informant named Naseem Khan.

BRAND: Well, I want to get to that in just a moment. But I want to ask you first about this allegation that he was at a terrorist training camp. What evidence did the government produce that he actually attended the camp?

Mr. TEMPEST: The most effective evidence, and it's all circumstantial, but the most effective was probably combining a long interrogation, of videotaped interrogation of Hamid Hayat where he describes at various points this camp and how he got there, with some satellite imagery that was brought in of what the government claims is a camp. I mean, they did a good job of sort of geographically placing him possibly in this area and matching his statements with the satellite image. What they didn't do is produce anything that showed what it was that he was at.

BRAND: So it could have been a religious school?

Mr. TEMPEST: Yeah. And I think that the defense throughout has argued that he didn't go, and that may have been a mistake, because if you say he didn't go, then you leave out the possibility that what he went to wasn't a terrorist camp, which is critical to the government case.

BRAND: Now, let's talk about the other element that's critical to the government case and that is this star witness, a government informant who befriended Hamid Hayat. His credibility was questioned earlier in the trial when he said that some top al-Qaida figures were actually in Lodi, that he had seen them and then government experts said that that couldn't have been possible.

Was the government ever able to recover and rehabilitate this witness?

Mr. TEMPEST: Well, again, yesterday I thought they did their most effective job. Initially, they tried to ignore these false claims. And then when they got in trouble on that, they finally just gave in and stipulated to the jury that he probably wasn't there. And then yesterday, finally, the Department of Justice Attorney Deitch said that it was a mistake, but it wasn't a lie.

He had made a mistake. He thought he saw these guys, but he wasn't lying about it. That's where they left it. I don't know how much it's hurt their case. Naseem Khan, for all of his lack of credibility, was a pretty effective witness.

BRAND: If convicted, how much time does Hayat face?

Mr. TEMPEST: He faces a total of 39 years in prison based on both the main count, which is providing material support for terrorism, and the lesser counts, which are lying to FBI agents.

BRAND: Rhone, how soon do you expect the jury to come back with a verdict?

Mr. TEMPEST: It's hard to say. It's a complicated case. They have to review a lot of evidence. Yesterday they just met for 37 minutes. They chose a foreman. Probably the earliest would be Friday, and maybe not that early because of all the complications and evidence and review and so on.

BRAND: Rhone Tempest is a Los Angeles Times reporter covering the terrorism trial in Sacramento, California. Thank you, Rone.

Mr. TEMPEST: You're welcome.

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