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Disclaimer: The author of this site maintained the campaign weblog of John Kline's opponent in the 2006 election, which made Congressman Kline a bit testy.

As with all blogs, review the facts carefully and draw your own conclusions.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Terrorists in America?!?

For some time now, I've been dissecting John Kline's alarmist web page put up for the putative purpose of recognizing the unheralded efforts of Americans who have fought successful battles in the war on terror here at home. The page starts of by giving some Justice Department statistics about numbers of arrests, convictions and so forth, and goes on to cite six specific examples of "victories on the home front" (there were seven, but one of these examples was removed, perhaps in response to a letter Kline's office received from a certain intrepid blogger).

I have worked through these seven (now six) examples one at a time to show that at most one and a half of them actually count as "victories" in the war on terror. But people of good will may disagree with my analysis, and in any case, Kline can point to those Justice Department statistics:

  • Five terrorist cells in Buffalo, Detroit, Seattle, Portland (Oregon), and Northern Virginia have been broken up;
  • 401 individuals have been criminally charged in the United States in terrorism-related investigations;
  • Already, 212 individuals in the United States have been convicted or have pleaded guilty to terrorist charges;
  • 113 individuals in 25 judicial districts have been charged with terrorist financing-related crimes, with 57 convictions or guilty pleas to date

One might reasonably argue that even if I'm right about the specific examples Kline has cited, it proves nothing more than Kline (or rather, his staff) didn't pick the best examples. One could argue that if we look at the big Justice Department picture, there's no doubt that there are terrorists in America, and the Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security are doing their jobs in keeping us safe.

One could argue this. But I'm sorry to report that the Bush Justice department has a well-established record of misleading the public about the scope of terrorism-related arrests, prosecutions and convictions. Beginning in June, 2003:

Under post-9/11 rules promulgated by the Justice Department -- which created a number of new terrorism-related categories by which to classify cases, but left it to district attorneys to determine which crimes fit the bill -- federal prosecutors across the country are turning in creative anti-terrorism records to their superiors in Washington, who are under enormous pressure to produce results and have little incentive to double-check them. The result is an epidemic of phony reporting. According to a January report by the General Accounting Office, at least 46 percent of all terrorism-related convictions for FY 2002 were misclassified; of those cases listed as "international terrorism," at least 75 percent didn't fit the bill.

Then in September, 2004:

Until that reversal, the Detroit case had marked the only terrorist conviction obtained from the Justice Department's detention of more than 5,000 foreign nationals in antiterrorism sweeps since 9/11. So Ashcroft's record is 0 for 5,000. When the Attorney General was locking these men up in the immediate wake of the attacks, he held almost daily press conferences to announce how many "suspected terrorists" had been detained. No press conference has been forthcoming to announce that exactly none of them have turned out to be actual terrorists.

The mendacity which originated under John Ashcroft has continued under his successor, Alberto Gonzales. In June, 2005:

Many people appear to have been swept into US counterterrorism investigations by chance -- through anonymous tips, suspicious circumstances, or bad luck. They have remained classified as terrorism defendants, years after they were cleared of connections to extremist groups.

For example, the prosecution of 20 men, most of them Iraqis, in a Pennsylvania truck-licensing scam accounts for about 10 percent of those convicted -- even though the group was absolved of ties to terrorism in 2001.

So how many of the 401 criminally charged, and 212 convicted of terrorist charges actually are "Terrorists in America?!?" There's really no way to tell. All we know for sure is that the numbers are wildly inflated. But the systematic use of misclassifying defendants as terrorists for PR purposes means that the data from the Justice Department, far from being the strongest part of Kline's case, is actually the weakest.


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