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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET

Terrorism

Mike Levine

Washington, DC

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Why Does DOJ Say 300+ Terrorists Convicted?

February 8, 2010 - 6:44 PM | by: Mike Levine
Eric Holder

Eric Holder

The “blogosphere” has been abuzz over whether Attorney General Eric Holder and others in the Obama Administration can accurately claim that more than 300 terrorists have been convicted in federal, civilian courts.

Holder employs the statistic in an effort to blunt criticism over the decision to try the five alleged 9/11 conspirators – and more recently, the alleged Christmas Day bomber – in a civilian court.

“We know that we can prosecute terrorists in our federal courts safely and securely because we have been doing it for years,” Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee in November. “There are more than 300 convicted international and domestic terrorists currently in Bureau of Prisons custody.”

And last week, in a letter to Republican leaders in the Senate, Holder used the statistic again, insisting that the handling of Umar F. Abdulmutallab, charged with trying to blow up a plane over Detroit on Christmas Day, comports with “long-established” practices.

“The Bush Administration used the criminal justice system to convict more than 300 individuals on terrorism-related charges,” Holder wrote in a letter to Republican leaders in the Senate.

But many online – and on Capitol Hill – wonder whether the Obama Administration is inflating numbers to make a political point.

One blog said the Obama Administration “appears to be creating a bit of mythology with their little list of imprisoned criminals with ‘histories’ and ‘nexuses.’”

So where did the Obama Administration get its “300″ statistic?

They insist they got it from the Bush Administration, and they say the information is readily available online.

“So those who say we just made up the number just need to go look at the old documents that were presented by the prior Administration,” a Justice Department spokesman told FOX News.

In fact, as part of a funding request submitted in 2008, the Bush Justice Department touted its “significant strides in the global war on terror,” noting that the department had already secured “319 convictions or guilty pleas in terrorism or terrorism-related cases” since the 9/11 attacks.

Two years before that, in September 2006, the Justice Department, then under the leadership of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, issued a “Terror Fact Sheet” stating that “288 defendants have been convicted or have pleaded guilty in terrorism or terrorism-related cases” since the 9/11 attacks.

And a year after that “Terror Fact Sheet” came out, Gonzales himself alluded to the statistic in a speech, telling a crowd at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy that the Bush Administration’s successes against terrorism were based on two key factors.

First, he said, was the decision to treat the 9/11 attacks as “acts of war,” which he said “enabled us to remove enemy combatants from the field of battle and collect intelligence.”

Second, he said, was “traditional law enforcement.”

“Planning a terrorist attack is a criminal offense, and the Department of Justice, along with our state and local law enforcement partners have also pursued would-be terrorists as criminals, frequently disrupting their plots before they are viable,” Gonzales said. “We have enjoyed great success utilizing the prosecutorial tools available within our criminal courts to disrupt and prevent further terrorist attacks on American soil in the past six years. In fact, since the September 11 attacks, hundreds of defendants have been convicted of or have pleaded guilty to terrorism-related offenses.”

Numbers, though, apparently have a tendency to change – or at least what qualifies as a “convicted terrorist” does.

During a major national security speech at the National Archives in May 2009, President Barack Obama said federal prisons “hold hundreds of convicted terrorists.”

But despite that previous claim and despite Holder’s recent statements regarding “300″ convictions, President Obama told CBS this past weekend that the Bush Administration “prosecuted 190 folks in these [civilian] courts, got convictions, and those folks are in maximum security prisons right now.”

Likewise, in September 2003, on the eve of the second anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, President George W. Bush told a crowd at the FBI Academy in Virginia about his administration’s “solid results” against terrorism, including “more than 260 suspected terrorists [who] have been charged in the United States courts, [and] more than 140 [who] have already been convicted.”

But five years later, on the eve of the seventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the Bush White House released a “Fact Sheet” saying, “Since 9/11, more than two dozen terrorists and supporters have been convicted in the United States of terrorism-related crimes.”

As for who comprises the Justice Department’s list of “convicted international and domestic terrorists” in U.S. prisons, the Justice Department spokesman wouldn’t say.

(The funding request submitted in 2008 can be found here: http://www.justice.gov/jmd/2009summary/html/004_budget_highlights.htm)

(The 2006 “Terror Fact Sheet” can be found here: http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2006/September/06_opa_590.html)

(The Bush White House’s “Fact Sheet” can be seen here: http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2008/09/20080910-5.html)

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