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Relatives of Terrorism Suspects Kept Out of U.S.

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Relatives of Terrorism Suspects Kept Out of U.S.

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Relatives of Terrorism Suspects Kept Out of U.S.

Relatives of Terrorism Suspects Kept Out of U.S.

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The FBI has prevented family members of two California men suspected of terrorism from entering the country — even though the family members are U.S. citizens, and have not been accused of any crime. Slate legal analyst Dahlia Lithwick talks about the case with Alex Chadwick.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

I'm Alex Chadwick. Coming up, we drop by Chickie Wah Wah, a nightclub that's opened up in post Katrina New Orleans.

BRAND: First though, the tiny agricultural town of Lodi, California is making terrorism news again this week. You may remember the terrorism trial of a father and son there earlier this year. The son, Hamid Hayat, was convicted of attending a terrorist training camp in Pakistan. His father pleaded guilty to lying to investigators.

Now, two of their relatives who live in Lodi have been barred from entering the United States. Joining us to discuss this case is Slate and DAY TO DAY Legal Correspondent Dahlia Lithwick. Hi, Dahlia.

Ms. DAHLIA LITHWICK (Legal Correspondent, Slate.com): Hey, Madeleine.

BRAND: Well, remind us again about that terror trial involving Hamid Hayat and his father.

Ms. LITHWICK: Hamid Hayat was a 22-year-old cherry picker in Lodi, and he was charged and convicted of essentially giving aid to the enemy because he trained at a terrorist camp - allegedly - in Pakistan.

The basis of the conviction that really was that he a long, very, very troubling interrogation with authorities in which he sort of confessed to all sorts to different things. He was clearly led to confess to other things, very ambiguous and strange confession. In any event, he was convicted in April and he now faces possibly 39 years in prison.

His father, as you mentioned, pled to allegedly being willing to smuggle $28,000 in cash into Pakistan. But as a father and son team, the whole thing was billed as a massive, massive terror cell plan initially to blow up hospitals all across California. It was - as many of these trials are -downgraded over time. But certainly for Hamid Hayat, very, very serious consequences still.

BRAND: And now two of his relatives have been caught up in this investigation. Tell us about that.

Ms. LITHWICK: That's right. You don't want to be in this family in Lodi right now. They are in this very curious legal state, because both of them are U.S. citizens. The father, Muhammad Ismail, is a 45-year-old uncle of Hamid Hayat. He is a naturalized U.S. Citizen. The son is 18-year old cousin Jaber Ismail, and he is born in the U.S. and a U.S. Citizen. Both have been in Pakistan for several years and now have been prohibited from reentering the United States. They found themselves surprising on a no fly list, and they've been told unequivocally that they cannot enter the country unless they submit to FBI interrogations and lie detector tests. And, in light of what happened to Hamid Hayat, the cousin - or nephew in this case - they're probably not all that willing to submit to FBI interrogations. Those don't always go very well for this family.

BRAND: And I understand the ACLU is now involved, representing these two. What's their position?

Ms. LITHWICK: Well, they're saying look, these guys are U.S. citizens. They left the country for a couple of years. They're not charged with anything. It's not clear even what they're suspected of. Let them back in the country. You can't put them on a no fly list and render them effectively stateless. And, of course, they claim that they were in Pakistan studying the Koran, not studying to be terrorist.

And in fact, they're only suspected at all based on this - again - very flawed and troubling interrogation of the cousin, Hamid Hayat.

BRAND: And the FBI says?

Ms. LITHWICK: Well, you know, the prosecutor in this case says, look. All we're asking them to do is to submit to these investigations. They have to go in and be interrogated and then they can come into the country. But, you know, this is a different era. It's a different time after 9/11, and we can't be to careful. And they say, you know, he was named by his cousin in an interrogation as having gone and trained in a military camp in Pakistan, and this is very serious stuff. So they essentially say you don't get to just enter this country if you're on a no fly list, you submit to an interrogation and then you can come in.

BRAND: Well, where is the law on this? Is it legal? Is it permissible for authorities to prevent the reentry of a United States citizen?

Ms. LITHWICK: Well, that's the head scratching part, Madeleine. Most legal experts say this is just unprecedented, that you just don't hear about a U.S. citizen being denied entry. It creates this sort of curious status called, quote, a stateless person, where you're a U.S. citizen but you can't come be in the U.S.

And so most, I think, legal experts agree that this is a very, very curious situation. The ACLU is filing a petition with the Department of Homeland Security to revisit the situation, saying you can't just put people on the no fly list as American Citizens, and again - without charges or without a real basis of suspicion - deny them entry into their homeland.

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: Slate and DAY TO DAY Legal Correspondent Dahlia Lithwick. Thank you, Dahlia.

Ms. LITHWICK: My pleasure, Madeleine.

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