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  • Playing the Numbers Game With Terrorism

    The Obama Administration’s preference to treat terrorists as mere criminals, and not as hybrid enemy combatants to be tried in military commissions, has been made crystal clear. The Administration boasts that the United States has successfully prosecuted hundreds of terrorists in federal court in the past, and as such, we should continue to use federal courts for the most serious terrorists, like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. What they don’t tell you, however, is that they are playing fast and loose with the numbers and types of terrorists tried in federal court.

    In fact, Attorney General Holder essentially conceded to the Senate Judiciary that there has not been one successful federal trial of an enemy combatant, captured overseas by our military, since 9/11. Read Heritage Senior Fellow Cully Stimson’s (former federal prosecutor and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs) op-ed on Holder’s testimony here.

    The Administration’s numbers come from a report by a liberal organization called Human Rights First. Now, thanks to another outstanding article by Andrew McCarthy, we know the truth about the numbers and the Human Rights First terrorist trial report. The report analyzed 119 “terrorism-related” cases with 289 defendants (as of June 2, 2009) and found that 195 were convicted for a 91% conviction rate. But McCarthy, the former Assistant US Attorney in Southern New York and writer for National Review, explains that in its political calculation of “doubling down on civilian due process,” the Left is playing a bogus numbers game.

    The report itself states that the 195 figure includes, “acts of terrorism, attempts or conspiracies to commit terrorism, or providing aid and support to those engaged in terrorism”, as well as, “charges under “alternative” statutes such as false statements, financial fraud, and immigration fraud.”

    But The New York Times and at least one member of Congress have been bragging that civilian courts have convicted 195 terrorists. Of the 195 convictions, 11 resulted in life sentences (that’s slightly over 5.6% of all convictions). And for the remaining 184 convictions, the average prison sentence was only 8.41 years, with a median prison term of a mere 4.83 years. Some 73 defendants were convicted of material support, 28 for money laundering, 21 for false statements, and 12 for racketeering.  Nine were convicted of conspiracy to commit murder, and 6 were convicted of killing a U.S. national. Eight years of prison isn’t enough time for a hardened terrorist, and the simple fact is that many of these convictions are not “international terrorists” or those actively plotting terror attacks.

    To illustrate his point, McCarthy provided an example of what could be included in this 195 figure:

    Let’s say the FBI is investigating al-Qaeda and it interviews a person suspected of having relevant information. That person lies during the interview, so the prosecutors indict him for making false statements, and he pleads guilty. Under the HRF’s [Human Rights First] standards, that gets tallied as a conviction in a “terrorism case.” But it hardly means the defendant is an international terrorist, let alone a KSM [Khalid Sheikh Mohammed - the architect of the 9/11 attacks].

    However, there are other groups trotting out different sets of numbers. The Justice Department has its own number being used to boost the anti-terrorism credentials of civilian courts. According to a DOJ fact sheet, “Hundreds of terrorism suspects have been successfully prosecuted in federal court since 9/11. Today, there are more than 300 international or domestic terrorists incarcerated in U.S. federal prison facilities.” The numbers parade doesn’t stop there.  According to an ACLU website dedicated to “Myths and Realities About the Patriot Act”, the then- Bush Administration, “overstates [the] actual number of convictions and omits a number of key facts related to these numbers,” and that the convictions were more commonly for, “charges of passport violations, fraud, false statements, and conspiracy.” The ACLU claims that out of a reported 361 terrorism cases (as of 2004) only 39 individuals were actually convicted of crimes related to terrorism – with a median sentence of 11 months.

    The discrepancy among these figures is political. The DOJ naturally wants to boast a strong conviction record of terrorists, whereas the ACLU, according to McCarthy, seeks to paint the terrorist threat as exaggerated.  All of these different numbers are being used to make a case for why terrorists like the Christmas Day Bomber belong in a civilian court, as opposed to a military court. Since that is the issue at hand, it would make more sense to compare and consider similar cases involving convicted terrorists, as opposed to a broader combination of terrorists and those that in some way assisted them.  McCarthy further summarizes this distinction:

    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.

    It is comparing apples to oranges to compare a terrorist who was one spark away from blowing a jetliner out of the sky and murdering hundreds of people to somebody who donated money to a front charity or helped move jihadist funds around.  McCarthy, with the experience of serving as the lead prosecutor in the case against the 1993 World Trade Center bomber, explains that, “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.”

    McCarthy is absolutely correct. Convicting less valuable and less imminently dangerous supporters of terrorism is a crucial component in the long-term war against radical Islamic terrorism, but the numbers involving an active terrorist threat and a more passive connection to terrorism should not be lumped together to score political points. Military commissions, properly resourced, are still the best option we have to handle those with a direct hand in the planning and execution of terror attacks.

    The Human Rights First report concedes that a great many of the 195 convictions are in fact minor offenses.  But before carelessly detaching the strings attached to such a number for political purposes, our politicians and commentators should put a little more thought into what the numbers actually represent.

    Posted in Ongoing Priorities [slideshow_deploy]

    9 Responses to Playing the Numbers Game With Terrorism

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    2. J.C. Hughes, Texas says:

      Numbers aside, 2010 marks the centennial of Mexico’s revolution. One of the celebrated heroes was Poncho Villa who lead his own insurgent campaign across the Rio Grande. Many Americans were murdered in his cross border excursions. Although law enforcement was kept busy with locals, the main thrust of America’s response to Villa’s attacks was carried out by General 'Black Jack' Pershing, USA. Villa was eventually killed by Mexican assassins. But if he’d been captured by the U.S, Army, would he have faced a military or civilian prosecutor? I seriously doubt the latter.

    3. ronnie benjamin, fai says:

      The American people are not stupid and thanks to reports like this informs us the more about what is going on in this administration. We can never, not in a million years, trust liberals of defending this country. They are out to destroy this country and we must be ever vigilant to expose them. Holder should be fired and tried for treason against our country.

    4. Jeanne Stotler,Woodb says:

      There are laws that cover insurgents, they would be clasified as enemy out of uniform, we have military tribunals for a reason. We are at WAR they declared war on us the USA and they should be treated as such. DO NOT forget BHO was raised as a muslim and indoctrinated in this hate America regime. We need to keep pushing for the removal of Holder and most of BHO's csars, we also need to be vigilant as to what is going on in Wash. they are a sneaky bunch and a lot of rhetoric is going on to try and blind sidee the residents of this country. We must be like our fore fathers asleep with one eye open and just as they spied on the british and many sent messages to Washington of the British troop movements, we must keep all of aware of the going ons in closed chambers.

    5. Normca says:

      The Left, [the ACLU, who now objects to Drone attacks] including the white house lies about everything that does not bolster their twisted view. They use Bush era numbers when it suits them. 9.7 unemployment after removing a big chunk of the employment rolls, cash for clunkers, foreclosures and the so called Bush budget deficit and on and on. In this instance, Holder's firm is making money in the federal courts. And the terrorist is sentenced to 4. 8 years, he is out for good behavior in 2 and back to the battlefield. Maybe Holder can pardon them after 6 months. He has experience with that. The rat brings the bait [the terrorist] to the nest, [the court for the defense firm] feeds his buddies [his fellow lawyers] and then everyone is enriched. We are supposed to believe that Holder made the KSM decision on his own ?

    6. Daverino Ft. Worth says:

      Are these people in the Washington bubble–really stupid enough to believe that we can't spot the razzle-dazzle when it's being ladled over our skulls daily?

      On it's face this is the most absurd collection of mumbo-jumbo ever foisted on the American public!

      Obama's administration makes history again!

    7. robert New York says:

      I wonder how many of these “195 convicted terrorists” are US citizens?

      If they’re not US citizens then they should never be tried in a civilian court, they should be tried in the military courts only. The Christmas Day crotch bomber and KSM- they didn’t hold up a liquor store; both are foreigners who committed acts of war!!! This administration needs to stop its appeasement with our enemies. Their displays of kindness to the enemy is being taken as weakness, and could invite another attack

    8. Larry Richmond, DC says:

      I am continually surprised by my fellow conservatives' inability to get their heads around the "war on terror." The Bush Administration's ability to 1) create the war on "terror" as though terror were a thing on which war could be waged and 2) our collective ability to buy into it, wholesale, are the foundations of this logic that says terror suspects need to be tried through the military. Yes, we are fighting terrorists over the world, but so far our response to terrorism has come solely from the military. We act like terrorists comprise an army that, once defeated, will vanish. No way… these things require long-term solutions. We can take out al Qaeda cells all over the world, we can even destroy al Qaeda, but until we take a strong, principled stand — and by that I mean actually living up to the values we claim to represent — more terrorists in other places will simply fill that vacuum. Don't get me wrong – I think we're being duped by these numbers too, and Holder and co. have done a miserable job at explaining themselves and laying out good reasons for trying these people in civilian courts. But there are good reasons, and I believe that we shouldn't let the liberals claim this high road of "justice" and "fair trials" — those are conservative values too. Our national security in the long term rests on our willingness to demonstrate the true values of a real democracy at work, and that starts with trying these men in civilian courts.

    9. Leon, Durango, CO says:

      Oh! How the Liberals love to prevaricate! Thanks for nailing them again on their Statistical Lying. One statistic I have not heard discussed is the way the first bombers of the World Trade Center were informed by experts in the Courtroom exactly how they could bring down the building. As I recall, the Engineer didn't want to say in Open Court how it would take an Airplane fully loaded with fuel to bring down the Twin Towers, but because the Defendant was entitled the Court ordered the expert to tell. It was exactly the Plan that brought them down!

      How many deaths will be caused by Court prosecution of what should have been a Military Tribunal? For me it is 6,000 deaths and more on the way. And don't forget the millions and millions of dollars worth of legal work that Obama's friends will no doubt get paid. Democrats never count the true costs of anything. They just dream it up.

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