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Thursday, June 10, 2004

So what else is the US Justice Department doing? 

Terror suspect freed: documents I'm beginning to wonder about the US Justice Department. This is a department with a proud history -- they won civil rights cases against Klansmen when nobody believed it could be done. But under Ashcroft, there's something bizarre going on here -- they're spending their time developing justifications for torture instead of dealing with real cases. They demand that the Patriot Act be extended, but they don't even seem to be trying to convict anyone of terrorism in court -- they're either just locking them up without a trial, or shipping them out of the country.
A couple of years ago, they did prosecute the Lackawanna Six though it is still unclear whether they really had a case, or whether the guilty pleas were just the result of government threats -- and there's been the shoebomber case and that case against the Canadian fellow running the arms training camp, which was laughable, but that's all I can remember reading about.
So is it that these lawyers and prosecutors are so incompetent that they couldn't win a case? I cannot believe they wouldn't get convictions -- the US is so scared of terrorism, a jury would convict even if the evidence is difficult or complex or has a few holes.
More logically, I suspect, they haven't been able to gather any actual evidence of terrorism against these people, just a bunch of hearsay and rumour and profiling -- but they followed the political bidding to make some high-profile 'show" arrests anyway because everyone believes there are terrorists hiding around every corner.
In searching for "terrorist convictions" by Google, I came across this December 2003 press release from the ACLU, which said:
. . . more than half of all 879 terrorism or anti-terrorism-classified convictions since 9/11 resulted in no jail time. Only 23 convicts received sentences of five years or more . . . since 9/11, 80 international terrorism convictions resulted in no jail time and 91 received sentences of less than a year (suggesting) that even successful prosecutions that the government claims are linked to terrorism are for very minor crimes . . . the ACLU said, the report raises serious questions about the premise of the Justice Department’s post-9/11 focus on preemption and prevention: how does aggressively prosecuting alleged terrorists who do not end up behind bars contribute to the interdiction of terrorist acts?
And I found the April, 2004 issue of the Atlantic with this short article about how the Justice Department defines terrorism:
In the two-year period following the World Trade Center attacks, federal investigative agencies referred significantly more cases classified as "terrorism" (3,500) to prosecutors than in the two years prior to the attacks. More such cases (730) were also prosecuted, and more convictions were won (341). Yet during the two years after the attacks, only sixteen people were sentenced to five years or more in prison for terrorism—fewer than during the two years preceding 9/11. Moreover, this "terrorist" tally includes not only the would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid but also such threats to national security as a Georgia man who detonated a pipe bomb in his girlfriend's empty car and a Texas man who conspired from his prison cell to assassinate a federal judge. Other facts cast additional doubt on the efficacy of the Justice Department's wide net: for instance, federal prosecutors deemed only 41 percent of the terrorism referrals they received worth pursuing (whereas 68 percent of all criminal cases referred to the department were prosecuted); and the majority of terrorism convictions (276 out of 341) resulted in no prison at all or sentences of less than a year. Even among those convicted within the narrower category of "international terrorism," the median sentence was fourteen days—the stuff of traffic violations, not al-Qaeda operations.
Not very impressive, is it? Back in the 50s, Americans convinced themselves there were communists in every closet, just waiting to pounce. Are 'terrorists lurking around every streetcorner' just the same myth?
UPDATE: And maybe the myth also explains the memos -- imagine the frenzy these attorneys and prosecutors and FBI and CIA must feel when they just "know" the US is harbouring terrorists, terrorists everywhere, yet they just can find any, or get anyone to admit knowing one or helping one? So they start thinking that maybe with a little "persuasion" they'll find all the terrorist cells . . . and suddenly there they are, having a Pinochet Moment as they justify the righteousness of beatings, dog attacks and electrodes.

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