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Terrorism Prosecutions Down:
The number of criminal prosecutions brought for terrorism-related crimes was down last year, according to a report covered in Monday's Washington Post.
In 2002, federal prosecutors filed charges against 355 defendants in international terrorism cases, the study said. By last year, that number had dropped to 46, fewer than in 2001. Just 19 such cases have been prosecuted so far this year, the study said.
  I think it's hard to know what to make of the raw numbers, at least as reported in the Post. Without knowing the details of all the cases, including the classified details, you can spin the numbers however you want. If prosecutions go up, the government is either being appropriately aggressive (good) or is being too aggressive and is labeling everything terrorism even if it's not related to terrorism (bad). If the numbers go down, the government is either being particularly careful (good) or else the lack of prosecutions reveals that the terrorist threat is mostly smoke and mirrors (bad).

  UPDATE: The report that forms the basis of the Post story is available here. I haven't had a chance to look at it carefully yet, but it seems to have a lot of good data not presented in the Post story.
Andrew Edwards (mail):
Plus if prosecutions go up, it could mean that more people currently held without trial are getting charged (good). Or it could mean that the same proportion of suspects are actually charged, there's just more of them (bad).
9.4.2006 12:16am
liberty (mail) (www):
Funny how none of the options is "terrorism has decreased, not due to anything anyone in the administration has done (neutral)" or the reverse if prosecutions went up. If I remember correctly, the number of terror attacks can fluctuate wildly year to year, and I would suspect that prosecutions and captures would too, depending both on stages of planning of attacks and corresponding detective (and undercover) work, and on sort of general luck and timing and so forth.

Also, ways of rooting out terror may differ year to year, ag some years success is had in military raids, kills, captures, other years there are more criminal actions and prosecutions come through. Even over a longer period such as 5 years many of these things would come to bear but year to year is hardly better than month to month - its not likely to be meaningful at all.
9.4.2006 12:51am
OrinKerr:
Liberty,

Obviously that's an option, too. I meant the good/bad options to be examples of the kind of explanations one might make, not the only arguments that are acceptable.
9.4.2006 1:08am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
It's been opined that law enforcement doesn't wait for a suspect to get involved in terror op to arrest him. Get him for, say, visa violations and put him in jail, sweat him for info, deport him.
Theoretically, this disrupts whatever he was involved in but does not show as a terrorism prosecution.
The technique of following him through the process until he's almost ready to blow something up risks losing him at the last minute and having something blow up. It for sure loses chances to follow him into interesting and possibly profitable places.
9.4.2006 12:15pm
John Bragg (mail):
Another option, judging from the graph in the paper Dallas Morning News, showing a big big spike in 2002 and a smooth, gentle decline 2003-06 is that we're out of "low-hanging fruit"--guys who did shady stuff in the 1990s that we let slide. The Sami Al-Arians of the world.
9.4.2006 12:46pm
MDJD2B (mail):
Besides the two alternative explanations presented above:

1. We're out of low hanging fruit

2. We're arresting them on other charges first--

I would posit other possibilities--

3. They're getting better at hiding their traces and don't get caught

4. The law enforcement climate has reduced the number of people doing arrestable things (general deterrance-- one of the supposed utilitarian goals of criminal law)

5. The GWOT has been successful to a degree, and the amount of capital and leadership available to fund terrorist activities has declined, leading to a decrease in arrestable terrorists
9.4.2006 1:12pm
Lively:
Every time a suspected terrorist is arrested...another terrorist may say to himself/herself, "Okay, we're not allowed to do that but we can do this." For instance, two Saudi MEN boarded a school bus (!) in Tampa and they were arrested and then let go. When a potential terrorist sees that this can be done, he adds it to his list of repertoire.

Saudi Men Mistakenly Board Fla. School Bus
9.4.2006 3:18pm
Third Party Beneficiary (mail):
Lively, do you actually have some sort of coherent point? According to the article you linked to, the men were charged with a crime and they have to appear in court for another hearing. Indeed, the article indicates that the men were held for three days (they were arrested Friday, released Tuesday) so that authorities could investigate them further and that they were released because there was no evidence they had committed any crime beyond trespassing.
9.4.2006 4:42pm
Norman Yarvin (www):
The most interesting datum, to me, was that the lead charge in 56% of the terrorism convictions that have been obtained since 9/11 was 18 USC 1001 -- the same law that Martha Stewart got nailed on, an absurdly general and draconian lying-to-investigators law.
9.4.2006 5:18pm
Lively:
Third Party Beneficiary:

My point was 2 Saudi men boarded a school bus in Tampa. Lied about where they were from (originally they said Morocco). Lied about why they were going to the school (gave different reasons to the police). One was wearing a trench coat in May (and he was sweating).

All of these acts are suspicious, yet they were charged with trespassing (not saying they should be charge with anything else). This act of muslims' boarding a child's school bus could in fact be related to (future) terrorism, yet their arrests doesn't indicate that this is a terror related crime.
9.4.2006 5:47pm
Lively:
Sorry to double post, I needed to add one thing to my Third Party Beneficiary post. This is how the charges ended:


Two Saudi men accused of boarding a school bus full of students won't be prosecuted if they complete a pretrial intervention program for first-time offenders, the state attorney's office said Monday.
9.4.2006 6:11pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
There are certain things you can do on a bus, if you're allowed on, that make subsequent arrest irrelevant.
9.4.2006 10:38pm
Eli Rabett (www):
Hmm, 2006, election year........
9.5.2006 1:17am
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