Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Naturally enough, the Justice Department likes to trumpet convictions of terrorists. Besides garnering great publicity and allowing the citizenry to sleep snugly at night, this means more money for the department. The problem is that the numbers are a sham. The story broke when the Philadelphia Inquirer examined convictions that the Justice Depart-ment said involved terrorism during the five year-period ending September 30, 2001. They found ludicrous examples of misclassification:

In one vivid example, an assistant US attorney in San Francisco asked US District Judge Marilyn H. Patel on Monday to stiffen a sentence against an Arizona man who got drunk on a United Airlines flight from Shanghai, repeatedly rang the call button, demanded more liquor, and put his hands on a flight attendant. Justice Department records show the case as "domestic terrorism."

In another case: "A tenant fighting eviction called his landlord, impersonated an FBI agent, and said the bureau did not want the tenant evicted. The landlord recognized the man's voice and called the real FBI." Other "terrorist" incidents included prisoners rioting for better food, "the former court employee

who shoved and threatened a judge," and "[s]even Chinese sailors [who] were convicted of taking over a Taiwanese fishing boat and sailing to the US territory of Guam, where they hoped to win political asylum."

After this chicanery was exposed, Republican Congressman Dan Burton asked the General Accounting Office — a nonpartisan governmental unit that investigates matters for Congress — to look into the Justice Department's claims of terrorist convictions. Sure enough, the GAO reported that the situation isn't nearly as rosy as we've been told. In the year after 9/11 — from September 30, 2001, to that date the following year — the Justice Department maintained that 288 terrorists had been convicted in the US of their heinous crimes. But the GAO found that at least 132 of these cases (approximately 42 percent) had nothing to do

with terrorism. Because of the GAO's methodology, it didn't verify every one of the remaining 166 convictions, so it refers to their accuracy as "questionable."

The deception is even worse when you zoom in on the cases classified as "international terrorism," which are the most headline-grabbing of all. Out of 174 such convictions, 131 (an amazing 75 percent) weren't really about terror.

After all of this humiliation, the Justice Department must've cleaned up its act, right? That's what it told the Philadelphia Inquirer. Well, the paper did a follow-up on "terrorism" cases for the first two months of 2003. Out of the 56 federal cases supposedly involving terrorism, at least 41 were bogus. Eight of them involved Puerto Ricans protesting the Navy's use of Vieques as a bombing range. The prosecutor who handled these cases says she doesn't know why they were classified as terrorism. Similarly, 28 Latinos were arrested for working at airports with phony ID, and a spokesman for the US Attorney says they weren't even suspected of being involved in terrorism. The most ridiculous example: "A Middle Eastern man indicted in Detroit for allegedly passing bad checks who has the same name as a Hezbollah leader."


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