About Those 300 Terrorists We’ve Convicted, Or Was It 195 . . . Or, Make That 39 . . .

The Obama Justice Department and its pals at the ACLU really need to get their story straight. 

As I recounted in yesterday’s column and these two posts, here and here, the Left has taken to exaggerating the number of “terrorists” who’ve been brought heel by prosecutions in the civilian justice system. It used to lambaste the Bush administration, with the familiar waves of indignation, for inflating the numbers.  Now, however, anxious to show that civilian prosecution is an effective counterterrorism tool, lefty lawyers have done a 180, and claim we have a non-stop assembly line of convicted “terrorists” rolling out of America’s courthouses.

Alas, my law-prof friend Greg McNeal from Penn State alerts me, the ACLU apparently hasn’t gotten the new memo. 

On its website, the ACLU pronounces that only 39 cases tried in federal courts were related to terrorism and the median sentence was just eleven months. As the organization elaborates in a “Myth v. Reality” feature:  

Myth: The Patriot Act’s ”new powers have allowed authorities to charge more than 400 people in terrorism investigations since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and convict more than half.”

Reality:  …The government’s numbers are also severely inflated.  The “400 convictions” claim overstates actual number of convictions and omits a number of key facts related to these numbers. A list obtained by the Justice Department defines only 361 cases defined as terrorism investigations from September 11, 2001 to September 2004. 31 of the entries on the list were blacked out. Only 39 of these individuals were convicted of crimes related to terrorism. The median sentence for these crimes was 11 months. This figure indicates that the crime that the government equated with terrorism was not serious. A study conducted by TRAC at Syracuse University notes that “despite the three-and-a-half-fold increase in terrorism convictions, the number who were sentenced to five years or more in prison has not grown at all from pre-9/11 levels.” The convictions were more commonly for charges of passport violations, fraud, false statements, and conspiracy. Moreover, the median prison time for a serious offense, such as providing material support to a terrorist organization was only 4 months. [Footnotes omitted -- if you want to see them, go to the ACLU link above.]

I’ve been making the point for a long time that the criminal justice system managed to take out only 29 terrorists in the eight years before 9/11. That’s less than what the military sometimes gets done in a single day during this war, underscoring that real international terrorists are primarily a military challenge, not a legal one, and ought to be handled primarily by military processes. The ACLU says the post-9/11 numbers are not very impressive either. But its motive in doing so is significantly different: namely, to argue that the terrorist threat has been exaggerated. 

In fact, the threat is not exaggerated, and the Justice Department has an important role in keeping us safe:  If we are to prevent jihadist strikes from happening (the post-9/11 Bush philosophy), we have to do aggressive terrorism investigations and prosecute people for the lesser offenses (immigration fraud, money laundering, material support, etc.) that, if left unchecked, facilitate major attacks. There’s nothing wrong — and everything right — with that. These are very important cases. They are cases that absolutely should be done in the civilian justice system, and DOJ should be applauded for doing them. The Human Rights First report, which puts the number of post-9/11 terrorism-”related” convictions at 195, admirably explains that it arrives at that figure by counting these lesser offenses. There’s no shame in the fact that they are not terrorism crimes — the whole idea is to make sure there are no real terrorism crimes. 

It is disingenuous to low-ball the figure, as the ACLU does, in order to minimize the problem. It is equally disingenuous to exaggerate the figure, as DOJ is now doing, to create a myth of law-enforcement effectiveness (in order to discredit wartime military processes). Both of these plays are in the Left’s playbook. But guys, but when your objective is to hoodwink the public, you’re not supposed to run both plays at the same time! Can’t anybody here play this game?


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