From 1993 to 2001, prosecutors in Manhattan convicted three dozen terrorists through guilty pleas and in six major trials. Since Sept. 11, 2001, the government's track record has been spottier; its failure to obtain a single conviction on Monday in its terrorism-financing prosecution of what was once the nation's largest Islamic charity was another in a series of setbacks, reports the New York Times.
Recent cases often have relied on the less colorful charge that the defendants had given “material support” to a terrorist organization. That shift is itself reflective of a conscious change in Washington's law enforcement strategy, to prevention from punishment. Some scholars and former prosecutors say the government should have known better than to bring some of its recent failed cases and that a lack of selectivity, along with a reliance on stale evidence and links to groups not at the core of the current threat, may be harming the effort to combat terrorism. In cases trying to prove material support for terrorism, the government's success rate is “pretty reasonable,” said Robert Chesney, a law professor at Wake Forest University. From Sept. 11 to last July, the government started 108 material-support prosecutions and completed 62, says an article by Chesney for The Lewis & Clark Law Review. Juries convicted 9 defendants, 30 pleaded guilty, and 11 pleaded guilty to other charges. There were eight acquittals and four dismissals.