Archive for September 5th, 2006

The University of Syracuse has recently taken a look at terror-related prosecutions in the U.S. and has found some interesting – and startling – results: prosecutions of international terrorists are down to pre-9/11 levels. And not only that, but the majority of terror investigations since 9/11 have resulted in little or no time served.

So why is this “startling”?

The report indicates that the administration’s efforts to thwart terror by using “tough” measures – torture, rendition, warrantless wiretapping, “trial” by tribunal, enemy combatant status, the Patriot Act, etc – the formation of the Department of Homeland Security, increased airline security, beefed up security budgets, and the Iraq War have had absolutely no effect on the existence of international terrorism.

In other words, terror is about as dangerous as it was before 9/11 – not terribly common, or not very. Our security system – including our political leadership — is doing just good enough of a job to keep your run-of-the-mill plots at bay, but unable to cope with a creative and determined terrorist.

Let me explain…

First, as you might expect, there’s a spike in international terror prosecutions in the year after 2001:

For some kinds of crime, the number of prosecutions in a given area may be a better measure of official concern about a particular problem than the actual threat. And given the deep public concerns immediately after the attacks, the very large number of international terrorism prosecutions in FY 2002 is hardly surprising.

Additionally, the actual percentage of convictions for those prosecutions was lower than usual. And the sentences for those that were convicted were extremely low. Before 9/11, the average terror conviction resulted in a sentence of over 40 months. After 9/11, just over 20 days. More than half of the terrorist-related convictions the defendant served no time. Most of the lowered sentencing was a result of federal officials using non-terrorist laws to prosecute defendants they classified as “terrorists.” Or “lead charges.”

The list of recorded lead charge for referrals that resulted in the defendant being convicted of some crime is shorter, but still contains a range of charges….Heading the list was 18 USC 1001 (fraud/false statements), representing over half of all convictions — 56.8%. The rest of the top 4 charges against convicted terrorists were 18 USC 1028 (fraud and related activity – ID documents — 5.6%), 18 USC 1546 (fraud and misuse of visas, permits — 4.7%) 18 USC 2339 (providing material support for terrorists — 3.8%) and 18 USC 3144 (release or detention of material witness — 3.3%). Two-thirds of all convictions for terrorism involved a fraud or fraud-related lead charge.

It seems, then, that after 9/11, federal officials went after anybody who forged documents, lied during depositions or interrogation, or gave money or other aid to terrorists. In other words, crimes that might not have been previously classified as terrorist activity, but were now being seen as such.

That is, those caught in the “sweep” of 2002 were generally not considered a serious terrorist threat.

After 2002, the number of prosecutions drops. Dramatically.

Considering the numerous warning statements from President Bush and other federal officials about the continuing nature of the terrorism threat, however, the gradual decline in these cases since the FY 2002 high point and the high rate at which prosecutors are declining to prosecute terrorism cases raises questions.


For example, did the high number of prosecuted, less serious cases in 2002 show that prosecutors felt pressured by the administration to give the country results? Why else would prosecutors apparently decline those same cases after 2002?

The agency responsible for the most number of cases declined by prosecutors was the FBI, coincidentally the agency most under public and administrative scrutiny:

Prosecutors filed charges on only 18 percent of FBI referrals and declined to prosecute 82 percent. More of the cases dropped by the wayside at the court stage. This means that less than one out of ten FBI cases disposed of during the five year period resulted in the defendant being convicted for any crime. The median sentence of convictions in FBI cases, although slightly higher than the overall median, was still only 6 months.

Those FBI cases prosecutors did follow to conviction seemed to be more serious, but the cases with enough evidence to actually pursue were scant.

Compare the FBI’s success rate with the amazing rate of another, less heralded agency:

In contrast, it was the Social Security Administration (SSA) which racked up the highest success rate in terms of the proportion federal prosecutors decided to proceed and prosecute in court (92% prosecuted versus 8% declined), and slightly over three out of four (76%) of cases that had reached completion resulted in a conviction. Presumably, the comparatively better record of the SSA was partly related to the fact that its cases were less complex. For the 50 SSA convictions, the median sentence was one month.

Considering the nature of prosecutorial lead charges – most fraud – it’s no wonder the SSA would bag the most crooks. They are, after all, in charge of documentation for work eligibility. It’s likely that most of these cases were aliens forging documentation for work purposes – and categorized as “terrorists.”

So, after 9/11 there were more prosecutions, but which resulted in a lower percent of convictions. And those convictions were for much less serious crimes. The number of actual violent terrorists caught, prosecuted, and convicted remains the same or near pre-9/11 despite the Bush administration rhetoric and tough-guy methods, which apparently result in more agency referrals.

In other words, all this extra-constitutional bullsh*t is not cutting down on terror, only creating more dubious referrals. It also means that the Iraq War has had no discernable effect on terrorism.

The Bush administration has promoted and executed its agenda for no apparent purpose.

Had enough?

Just out with the Great Falls Tribune: Eric Iverson is now Burns’ campaign chief.

I’m not sure if Iverson can do anything to help Burns. It’s not like he’s done anything but keep Rehberg out of the news. Perhaps he’s bringing this in his little bag of tricks.

I’m not sure this is a smart move for either campaign. First, Rehberg just jettisoned his number one guy in the middle of an election run he is, by most accounts, winning. Can the new guy (Dustin Frost?) handle a crisis? I suspect one’s coming…

On the other hand, this pretty much confirms what many of us left bloggers knew already: Burns and Rehberg are interchangeable parts. Why Rehberg wants a little Burns mojo right now is a mystery. But, hey, bad judgement is afflicting Republicans all across the country. It’s about time Rehberg enjoys a little, too.

After all, he’s got his fingers in Iraq, torture, the national deficit…and some Abramoff pie, too…

Today’s Missoulian takes an interesting twist in its editorial musings. (What’s with this newspaper? One day it’s touting Neanderthal methods – racial profiling – the next its mulling the use of imagery in wartime?) Today, the editorial examines the famous Iwo Jima flag-planting pic, which was basically a doctored after-the-fact depiction of an event that had actually occurred.

The question is whether it’s okay for media to print propaganda over accurate stories. Today, of course, the media favors realism over propaganda (tho’ that’s debatable, of course). Why? The Missoulian:

It’s a temptation (irresistible to many) to attribute the change to a liberal press, but few things are just that simple, and this isn’t one of them. Although many Americans fairly perceive newsrooms as bastions of liberalism, the war pictures you see today have less to do with liberals and conservatives than with the widely held (and let us assert “yet unproven”) journalistic theory that the people always know best, and they need and can be trusted to sort through the bad and the ugly, along with the good. This dovetails with the general journalistic theory that the media exist not to bolster the government, which can and sometimes has run amok. This is a theory that includes questioning the government and empowering people to think for themselves among the list of patriotic acts.

The trouble with this is that many war supporters are irate. They want pro-American press:

A June 2005 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found 44 percent of Americans polled believe a critical press keeps the nation’s military better prepared to defend the country, but 47 percent say criticism weakens the nation’s defenses. Sixty-eight percent said they want “neutral” coverage of the war on terror; just 24 percent (but 39 percent of Republicans) said they want “pro-American” coverage.

The paper then considers that today’s media is uncontrollable thanks to accessible satellites, the Internet (and blogs, one presumes), digital photography in nearly everybody’s hands. The Missoulian:

Gut sense tells us that more information will bring us closer to the truth than less, but it’s also doubtful whether the unvarnished truth in full, living color is conducive to winning wars….American audiences don’t want biased coverage of the war, and they say they don’t want pro-American propaganda wrapped up as news. The question is whether neutral coverage of war is conducive to American victories.

Interesting question, eh? But then this is where the Missoulian goes horribly astray. It considers media coverage of WWII as a suitable example. Comparing Iraq to the Second World War is wrong and twisted on so many levels, it boggles the mind. To wit:

–WWII was an actual Congressional-declared war. Our country decided through Constitutional procedures and duly elected representatives to war against Germany, Japan, and Italy. Iraq was thrust on us, even though the majority of Americans were against it at the time. Congress had little or no say.

–The country was invested in the Second World War . Our citizens knew why we were fighting, and we knew what our goals were. In Iraq, everything is fuzzy. We don’t know why we invaded. We don’t know why we are fighting. We don’t know when we’ll leave, or even if we’ll leave. Basically this is a partisan war started by a Republican president and fought largely along ideological lines and always with partisan political benefit as a main goal of the fighting. This country is not invested in the war, despite the hysterical shrieking of a few isolated right-wingers.

–The leadership during WWII was competent. There was never much doubt from anyone on the quality of leadership, both in civilian and military circles. In Iraq, the opposite is true. Incompetent and overtly partisan political and ideological leadership will probably cost us the war. The President and his administration have shown us they are incapable of waging war.

Without consensus on whether we should be fighting at all, without any constitutional commitment to fighting, it should be the obligation of the media to serve us realistic coverage in order that we may, as a society, with as much real information at our disposal as possible, make the crucial decisions about the war.

I suspect that if we’re ever faced with another war as clear-cut in its genesis and its goals as WWII, the question will not arise. Americans will rise up and sacrifice, and the purpose of media will be a non-issue. On the other hand, if we’re faced with highly questionable campaigns like Iraq, waged with neither apparent reason or goal nor Congressional declaration, it should be the duty of the press to supply us with as much information as possible.

The authors of the Constitution were very much concerned with possible Presidents like Bush who would want to wage war by their own whims. That’s why there are a number of Constitutional guarantees handing the power of declaring war to Congress, a popularly-elected body more closely in tune to national sentiment than the whimsies of a ideological and less-than-able President.

A free press is crucial in informing the people of transgressions by their government. Traditional media blew it in the lead-up to Iraq. Let’s not make the same mistake now.

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