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Impeach Bush

Feds hype terrorism conviction rate
Denver Post
December 08, 2003
By Michael Riley

In the two years following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the federal government has dramatically increased the prosecution of crimes it says are related to domestic or foreign terrorism, and more than tripled its rate of convictions for those offenses compared with the two years before the attacks.

But the median sentence for those convicted of international terrorism during that time is just 14 days, while some convictions the government has labeled as related to counterterrorism resulted in a sentence of community service or drug rehabilitation, according to government data to be released by a private research group today.

The findings represent a distinct contrast to recent Bush administration efforts to play up the success of the war on terror on the domestic front.

Pressed to justify broad powers given the government under the USA Patriot Act - and campaigning for an expansion of those powers in new legislation dubbed Patriot II - administration officials have pointed to statistics that show the growing number of terrorism convictions in the two years following the attacks.

In a speech before the FBI Academy in September, President Bush said that since the attacks, U.S. prosecutors have charged more than 260 suspected terrorists, of whom 140 have already been convicted.

But critics say the new data - compiled by researchers at Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, using Justice Department reports - provide a very different picture, one that suggests the government is inflating its success by categorizing minor prosecutions as related to terrorism.

TRAC data shows that convictions in cases the Justice Department says are related to international terrorism jumped 7 1/2 times compared with the two years before the attacks - from 24 to 184 - but the number of individuals who received sentences of five or more years actually dropped, from six in the two years before the attacks to three in the two years that followed.

When crimes the Justice Department said were related to domestic terrorism are included, convictions jump from 96 before the attacks to 341 after. Despite that dramatic increase, the number of those individuals who received sentences of five or more years dropped from 24 to 16.

"Since Sept. 11, we've been told that stopping terrorists has been the top priority of the Justice Department. If the data in the (TRAC) report is correct, this raises questions about the accuracy of the department's claims about terrorism enforcement," said Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who in the past has been critical of the way the FBI and other agencies have categorized cases to show they are succeeding in America's war on terror.

The Justice Department warned Friday that the statistics cited in the TRAC study can be deceptive.

In what authorities describe as a strategy of prevention, potential or suspected terrorists are being charged since the 2001 attacks with minor nonterrorism crimes to get them off the street or out of the country.

"The fact that many terrorism investigations result in less-serious charges does not mean the case is not terrorism-related," Justice Department spokesman Mark Corallo said in a written statement. "The Department of Justice's top priority is the prevention of future terrorist attacks.

"Often, there is no clear line between terrorism and other criminal activity such as money laundering, identity theft, visa fraud or immigration violations."

Partly at issue, experts say, is the fact that the Department of Justice has wide discretion in how it categorizes criminal investigations and the prosecutions that result, even though the data is used to justify its budget and is monitored by lawmakers trying to judge the success of America's war on terror.

Typically, federal statutes define terrorism as acts of violence meant to intimidate civilians or coerce governments. The law cites assassination, mass destruction or kidnapping as specific examples.

But terrorism cases are difficult to prosecute and sometimes require compromising valuable intelligence sources, authorities say. The FBI categorizes cases as terrorism-related if any terrorist activity is suspected, even if no actual terrorism charges are brought.

In a prominent case in Denver, for example, three men who allegedly attended an al-Qaeda training camp were charged with an immigration offense - lying on a visa application. Although the men are not being prosecuted for terrorism, the FBI considers it a terrorism-related case.

But that discretion has also led to a terrorism classification for crimes that have no apparent terrorist link.

Federal authorities in New Jersey initially included attempts by 65 Middle Eastern men to cheat on an English-language entrance exam among their "terrorism-related" cases, briefly boosting terrorism prosecutions in that state from two to 67. The categorization was changed after it was reported in the media.

"We aren't safer when we call people who aren't terrorists 'terrorists.' We are safer when we catch more terrorists," said Timothy Edgar, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington, D.C. "What this TRAC report shows is that the huge spike in numbers does not reflect any increase in the number of terrorists we've caught."

The stakes behind the debate are considerable.

The Bush administration has repeatedly cited its previous success at prosecuting terrorists in efforts to shore up waning congressional support for strengthening provisions of the Patriot Act, most recently in Bush's September speech.

The legislation would give authorities broad powers to seize personal documents, including medical, financial and other records, without a court order.

It also would broaden crimes for which the death penalty could be applied, a provision critics fear is so vague that it could be applied to domestic political protesters.

"The hype that the Justice Department and the administration has engaged in about terrorism statistics shows that the data they have been using to justify and defend controversial policies, like the Patriot Act, is totally untrustworthy," Edgar said.

"As they move to expand those policies even further, statistics like these are not going to help their credibility before Congress."

The median jail time is ONLY 14 days. This war on terrorism is a joke.

The second paragraph says it all.

"But the median sentence for those convicted of international terrorism during that time is just 14 days, while some convictions the government has labeled as related to counterterrorism resulted in a sentence of community service or drug rehabilitation, according to government data to be released by a private research group today."

Never before has so much crap and disinformation been written about so little. When will Americans figure out we're being lied to (again)? The war on terrorism is and has been a joke--a political joke on the entire country. 14 days, good grief!