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Amidst charges that President Bush and U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) are inflating the number of criminal prosecutions for terrorism, five cases shed light on the administration's mixed record of convictions during 2005.

In a Florida case, officials at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) falsified documents in an effort to cover repeated missteps and then retaliated against an agent who first complained about the problems.

After being held for more than three years in U.S. military custody, Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen arrested in Chicago and labeled an "enemy combatant" by the Bush administration, was charged conspiracy to murder U.S. nationals and providing "material support" to terrorists - but not with the charges he had been originally accused of: plotting to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb" in the United States and to blow up apartment buildings using natural gas lines.

The case against the so-called "Detroit sleeper cell" - once hailed as a significant Justice Department triumph in the "Global War on Terror"-- was dismissed after a jury convicted two men of supporting terrorism. Now a federal grand jury in Detroit is investigating whether the lead prosecutor, Richard Convertino, should be indicted for hiding exculpatory evidence from the defense, including altering dates on three FBI forms using correction fluid to conceal an apparent violation of federal wiretap law.

Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, 24, a U.S. citizen held in a Saudi Arabian jail for 20 months allegedly at the behest of the U.S., was convicted in Virginia of conspiracy to assassinate the president, conspiracy to commit aircraft piracy and contributing services to al-Qaida. He faces up to life in prison. Abu Ali claimed that he was tortured into a false confession by Saudi authorities, but the jury rejected that charge.

A former Florida professor, Sami Al-Arian, 47, accused of helping to lead a terrorist group that has carried out suicide bombings against Israel, was acquitted on nearly half the charges against him and the jury deadlocked on the rest including charges he aided terrorists. The case was seen as one of the biggest courtroom tests yet of the Patriot Act's expanded search-and-surveillance powers.

These cases provide context for assertions by President Bush, his Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, and many other senior administration officials, that "federal terrorism investigations have resulted in charges against more than 400
suspects, and more than half of those charged have been convicted."

But, according to an analysis of the DOJ's own records by the Washington Post, the numbers are misleading. The paper claimed that 39 people -- not 200, as officials have implied - have been convicted of crimes related to terrorism or national security".

"Most of the others were convicted of relatively minor crimes such as making false statements and violating immigration law -- and had nothing to do with terrorism", the analysis shows. "For the entire list, the median sentence was just 11 months."

Said The Post, "Taken as a whole, the data indicate that the government's effort to identify terrorists in the United States has been less successful than authorities have often suggested. The statistics provide little support for the contention that
authorities have discovered and prosecuted hundreds of terrorists here. Except for a small number of well-known cases -- such as truck driver Lyman Faris, who sought to take down the Brooklyn Bridge -- few of those arrested appear to have been involved in active plots inside the United States."

It added, "Among all the people charged as a result of terrorism probes in the three years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, The Post found no demonstrated connection to terrorism or terrorist groups for 180 of them".

Bush Administration officials have not denied the accuracy of The Post's analysis.

The DOJ's campaign to round up and detain alleged terrorists began under then Attorney General John Ashcroft almost immediately following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. During that period, large numbers of people -- primarily Arabs and other Muslims as well as South Asians - were arrested by the DOJ and held without charges or lawyers in jails run by immigration agencies.

No one caught up in this dragnet was ever accused of any terror-related crime. Some were released, often after being held incommunicado for months. Some claimed to have been beaten or otherwise mistreated. Most were deported for immigration violations - not a criminal offense under U.S. law.

David Cole, a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center and author of "Enemy Aliens," asserts that the "centerpiece of the domestic war on terrorism has been preventive detention."

"In the first seven weeks after Sept. 11, the DOJ admitted to detaining nearly 1,200 men as suspected terrorists, nearly all foreign nationals," he said.

"It subsequently adopted two anti-terrorism immigration initiatives that were aimed at men from Arab and Muslim countries on the theory that they were more likely to be terrorists. Those programs led to the detention of nearly 4,000 more people. Yet of these, not one stands convicted of any terrorist offense. The administration's record is zero for 5,000."

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WILLIAM FISHER Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

William Fisher has managed economic development programs in the Middle East and elsewhere for the US State Department and the US Agency for International Development. He served in the international affairs area in the Kennedy Administration and now (more...)
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