- The Washington Times - Monday, December 8, 2003

Of the thousands of people referred by the FBI and other federal investigators to prosecutors in connection with terrorism since the September 11 attacks, only a handful have been convicted and sentenced to long prison terms, according to a new analysis of Justice Department figures.

The FBI challenged the methodology of the analysis, saying it led to “misleading and unfounded conclusions.”

The analysis, carried out by statisticians and longtime law-enforcement observers at the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) based at Syracuse University, found that in the two years after September 11, 2001, about 6,400 people were referred to prosecutors in connection with terrorism or terrorist offenses.

But of the 2,681 cases that had been wrapped up by the end of September of this year, only 879 were convicted of a crime, and less than half of those — 373 — were sent to prison.

Only five received sentences of 20 years or more, which was fewer than in the two years before September 11.

“Our report raises serious questions,” David Burnham of TRAC said. “When such large numbers of cases are declined, dismissed or acquitted, we have to ask: Is the government pursuing the right strategy [in the war on terror]? Are they targeting the right people?”

Mr. Burnham pointed out that nearly half the cases sent to federal attorneys never were prosecuted. “What does this say about the quality of the investigators?” he asked.

“This report underscores concerns that I and others have raised,” said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, in a statement. He said that he had written to officials earlier this year when the Justice Department made the figures available but had not received a response.

The American Civil Liberties Union said the report “punctures the hype that the Justice Department and government have used to justify the Patriot Act and other measures they say are needed to fight terrorism.”

But the FBI, in a statement issued yesterday, said the report’s data was taken out of context, because the authors used the terms “referred to prosecutors” and “recommended for prosecution” interchangeably.

In fact, FBI spokesman Jim Parsell told United Press International, it was an administrative requirement for every case investigated to be referred to prosecutors so it could be closed, even when there was no prospect of a successful prosecution.

The result of these flaws, said the statement, was a “misleading and unfounded conclusion about federal law enforcement.”

The report authors acknowledge that hundreds of cases included in their total of 6,400 were still pending at the time of their analysis, and that — because more serious cases tend to be more complex and take longer to complete — the numbers receiving long sentences was likely to rise as time went on.

Indeed, since the Sept. 30, 2003, cutoff date for TRAC’s data, at least two men — members of the so-called Lackawanna Six from upstate New York — have been sentenced to more than five years for terrorist crimes.

Tim Edgar of the ACLU said that the data show the government was “cooking the books” on the war against terror.

“This report reveals the gap between rhetoric and reality.

“These figures have been used over and over again by officials up to and including the president to make people feel safer and to stifle the debate about whether the administration’s strategy and the new laws they’ve passed are working.”

He said that the report clearly showed “prosecutorial abuse.”

“The justice department has labeled more than 6,000 people terrorists, but the sentencing figures show the judges aren’t buying it,” he said.

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