June 12, 2005

Dubya really has problems with facts.

Or, more likely, his handlers do.

This past week, the prez was doing his best to promote the renewal of the Patriot Act, including the provisions that are set to expire later this year. In a speech in Ohio on Thursday, Dubya said:

Over the past three-and-a-half years, America's law enforcement and intelligence personnel have proved that the Patriot Act works, that it was an important piece of legislation. Since September the 11th, federal terrorism investigations have resulted in charges against more than 400 suspects, and more than half of those charged have been convicted. Federal, state, and local law enforcement have used the Patriot Act to break up terror cells in New York and Oregon and Virginia and in Florida. We've prosecuted terrorist operatives and supporters in California, in Texas, in New Jersey, in Illinois, and North Carolina and Ohio. These efforts have not always made the headlines, but they've made communities safer. The Patriot Act has accomplished exactly what it was designed to do — it has protected American liberty, and saved American lives. [Emphasis added]

We're talking about at least two hundred terror convictions since 9/11, right? Most of them due to the Patriot Act, yes?

Not so fast.

According to the Washington Post, the actual numbers are much smaller.

An analysis of the Justice Department's own list of terrorism prosecutions by The Washington Post shows that 39 people — not 200, as officials have implied — were convicted of crimes related to terrorism or national security.

Most of the others were convicted of relatively minor crimes such as making false statements and violating immigration law — and had nothing to do with terrorism, the analysis shows. For the entire list, the median sentence was just 11 months....

Among all the people charged as a result of terrorism probes in the three years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, The Post found no demonstrated connection to terrorism or terrorist groups for 180 of them.

Not a very impressive record, is it?

The DOJ data has also been analyzed at NY University School of Law's Center on Law and Security, and they aren't much impressed by the US government's record on terror prosecutions, either.

In fact, looked at with a cold eye, the administration's record of convictions in terrorism cases is remarkably inconsequential. Although it is extremely difficult to obtain reliable information on such cases, the facts, as best we know them, are these: Of the 120 terrorism cases recorded on Findlaw, the major information source for legal cases of note, the initial major charges leveled have resulted in only two actual terrorism convictions — both in a single case, that of Richard Reid, the notorious shoe bomber. Of 18 actual charges of "terrorism" brought between September 2001 and October 2004, 15 are still pending and one was dismissed. In lieu of convictions for terrorist acts, the Justice Department uses another related, lesser charge ? that of "material support," which means providing aid or services to a terrorist or a terrorist organization. Its extreme breadth and over-inclusiveness has rendered it the fallback charge of choice and a catchall for anything from having trained in an al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan back in the 1990s (when al-Qaeda's focus was the war in Bosnia and other places outside of the United States) to weapons training, or even the exceedingly modest category of producing fraudulent documents, so long as they are knowingly provided to a designated "foreign terrorist organization."

But what of the six cases of "terrorism convictions," material support or otherwise, that the president himself hailed as the benchmarks of the administration's courtroom success story? As it happens, five resulted from questionable plea bargains, often on lesser charges, not necessarily closely related to terrorism, and one has yet to be tried. Only in the Detroit case has there been an actual conviction for "terrorism" (albeit material support for terrorism), and that case has since been overturned in a manner embarrassing to the Bush administration.

When the plea bargains are considered in their own right, their apparent circumstances should cause the odd eyebrow to be raised. After all, over half of all terrorism cases tried so far have resulted in plea bargains. The Department of Justice (DOJ) alleges that such pleas are offered in exchange for important information in the War on Terrorism, and spokespersons at the DOJ invariably maintain that, as in criminal cases generally, these have yielded invaluable information. Yet despite the implementation of the USA PATRIOT Act and the reorganization of our law enforcement efforts to fight terrorism, the yield seems neither better, nor worse than that which existed prior to 9/11.

Basically, the Dubya administration's record on terror prosecutions is a middling one at best, and is nowhere near the success story that the prez portrayed in his Ohio speech.

This shouldn't be surprising. Dubya and his officials have shown little or no respect for the truth in any of their public utterances, particularly where the 'war on terror' is concerned. Lies and exaggerations were employed to whip up the hysteria that resulted in the passage of the Patriot Act in the first place, and they're being used again now to not only keep all of the provisions of that law in force, but to expand the administration's abilities to invade the privacy of law-abiding citizens.

The Washington Post has a full list of the DOJ's 330 terror cases, sorted by types sorted by case dispostion and sentence type here.

NYU's Center for Law and Security has more statistics on the cases here [PDF file].

Via Paper Chase.

Posted by Magpie at June 12, 2005 12:00 AM | War on Terrorism | TrackBack(1) | Technorati links |