Sunday, June 12, 2005

Lodi, California

Salaam Alaikum!

By now just about everyone reading this blog (at least in the United States) is probably familiar with Lodi, California - a small town in what is known as Central Valley. After the initial arrest of five individuals, the town's Muslim population continues to be harassed by the FBI.

Following is the experience of Mr. James Schwab of the ACLU, and Director of Associate Students of the University of California at Davis Office of External Affairs. Mr. Schwab visited Lodi this past Friday evening:

Last night, Norb, Dean, and I headed down to Lodi, a recent hotspot in the "War on Terror". We went simply as a citizen, a lawyer, and a student.

On our long drive down a slow moving I-99 we kept in contact with our friend Basim Elkarra (Executive Director, CAIR, Sacramento). He was being pulled in many directions as he tried to calm the fears of a frightened community, keep track of who was being quesionted by the FBI, and teach the community there rights. He needed help.

When we arrived in Lodi we met Bashim at a local motel, a few blocks from "ground zero". Inside the room was Bashim and several, local, young males. They had been helping our friend with translation and outreach in the community.

As soon as we walked in, we were delegated different duties. Norb and I would stay and interview locals either with notes or a video camera. Dean would go with Bashim to the mosque so he could give a quick civil rights training and assure the community that help is on the way.

Bashim told me after the training, that he will never forget the look of relief and happiness on people's faces as Dean gave his presentation.

As for Norb and I, the first young lady we interviewed was related to, and lived in the same house as, the two gentleman originally arrested. She was visibly shaking as she told us the story of what happened this past Tuesday, three days after the original arrests.

The FBI had been closley watching the house even after the arrests, so they knew that only 3 women and 5 children were inside. On Tuesday they decided to execute a search warrant by ramming down the front door and secruing the house with dozens of well-armed agents. Guns were put to the women's heads. One passed out.

An ambulance was called to help her. When it arrived the agents would not let the EMT in. Only after the EMT refused to leave was he allowed in, but she was not allowed to be taken to the hospital.

There were no arrests just the seizure of tax and banking information. The next two young men were both working at a local packing plant when about 10 agents arrived.

In front of their co-workers they were both padded down and frisked. They were told that they had to come with the agents to answer a few questions, the young men complied. They took them in separate cars, one to his home for the interview, the other to the Lodi Police station. The one who was taken home, was interrogated for an hour about what he had done in Pakistan 4 years prior when he was 16.

After the questioning was done, the agent gave him his card and told him he would have to come up to Sacrmento for further questioning later in the week.

The other young man refused to be interviewed at home, so as to not upset his parents, thus he was taken to the local police station (where they have conducted a lot of the interviews). He went through a similar line of questioning about his activities in Pakistan 8 years prior when he was 10. During the interview they tried to make him admit to knowing and training with Al-Queda.

After several other similar interviews, Dean and Bashim returned. We began to stratgize about the rest of the evening. Norb stepped outside for some fresh air. With in a few minutes, I received a call from Norb that "they had arrived". "They" were the FBI who had parked two unmarked vehicles to the north and south of our hotel room. Three other unmarked vehicle had circled several times as well.

Our plan for the evening was to check out the local mosque, where more FBI agents were staked out and to meet up with two gentlemen who were wanted by the FBI for questioning. We had talked them and told them not to go and to wait for us.

As we left the room we could not help but take out our video camera. We walked right up to one of the FBI cars and taped him talking on his cell, he pretended we were not there. We then climbed into our vehicle and left for the mosque. Pulling out of the parking lot, we were followed by the two vehicles watching our room. Turning down the street on which the mosque sits, three other vehicles joined them. The camera is rolling this whole time.

We arrive at the mosque and park. Bashim and two locals go inside for prayer and to find the two wanted gentlemen. Norb, Dean and I walk across the street to a park where we were told the FBI hangs out. The five vehicle that had followed us there were now constantly circling the block, briefly pulling over and then pulling away again. In the sky were two small single engine airplanes, which the local said had been up there on and off for the past 6 days. While the five veichle were circling we noticed about three more sitting in the parking lot of the park.

Bashim returned and informed us the two men were not at the mosque and that we should go to their family's house. We climbed back into the van and begin to drive over, the FBI in close behind. On the way over I talked with Bashim about how to mobilize the community. I had thought that if only we could get all the community leaders together...all the community leaders are currently sitting in jail. The FBI had taken the heart out of this community.

We arrived at the family's house and sat down to talk with 6 older gentlemen, relatives of the two men we were looking for. The relatives informed us that the two men had gone to the police station to meet with the FBI. We quickly got them to take Dean on as their attorney, pro bono of course, so we could try to get these men out.

We rushed over to the police station, but this time there was no FBI to be seen. It was about 10pm and the station was locked up, so we buzzed the front desk. We asked the dispatcher if the two young men were in there. She said no. We told her that we had been informed they had come down here, and
in fact there car was parked out front. She said there is no one here being questioned by the FBI. We then called the Special Agent who had been giving his card out all over town. He told us that they were inside the Lodi police station.

Again we buzzed the dispatcher and again she said there was no one there. We were about to get back into the car, when a Lodi police officer came out a side entrance and told us that yes the two men were inside and that we would be let in. Unfortunately, the FBI would not Dean to see the men as they had not requested to see a lawyer. At about 12:30am one of the men comes down, very surprised to see us.

As it turns out he was not being interrorgated, he had simply come with his relative who was being questioned. About a half hour later, after being interrogated for six hours and put under several lie detector tests, the man was released.

After a quick debriefing with the two gentlemen the locals went home and so did we. Everyday dozens of people are being questioned, harassed, and followed. They need our help.

James Schwab

Associate Students of the University of California at Davis
Office of External Affairs

1 comment(s):

  • Thank you for the narration of events. It seems thorough and generally unemotional.

    My observation, based on the information you've provided, is that the FBI is doing exactly what they should be doing under the current circumstances.

    Of course there is inconvenience and a level of distress in the immediate community. I don't see how someone living in a house with someone being investigated for having spent time in an Al Queda training camp would expect anything other than a search warrant and a vigorous execution of that search warrant.

    Is it "rough"? Is it "scary"? Is it necessary during this "war"? The answer to all is "yes". If one of these persons is mistreated, if their rights are violated, I will be right there with you to defend them. I just don't see that this is the case under the circumstances you describe.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7/08/2005 03:12:00 PM  

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