A study of Justice Department terrorism cases since Sept. 11, 2001, shows that among the 184 people accused of crimes deemed “international terrorism,” defendants were sentenced to a median prison term of just 14 days, and in some cases received no jail time at all. So concluded researchers at Syracuse University, reports the Los Angeles Times.
The number of defendants sentenced to five years or more for terrorism-related crimes declined in the two years after the attacks compared with the two years before them. “It raises questions about how the government is targeting its investigative work in this area,” said David Burnham, a former New York Times reporter who works with the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, the data-gathering firm that conducted the study.
An FBI spokeswoman, Cassandra Chandler, called the report “misleading.” She said it ignored the fact that a growing number of referrals to prosecutors relate to intelligence gathered about terrorist threats, which are not likely to result in immediate prosecution.
To its critics, the study is further evidence that the Justice Department is exaggerating the success of its anti-terrorism efforts. “Since Sept. 11, we’ve been told that stopping terrorists has been the top priority of the Justice Department,” Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said. “If the data in the report is correct, this raises questions about the accuracy of the department’s claims about terrorism enforcement.”
Justice said the study failed to appreciate the reality of post-Sept. 11 law enforcement. It “ignores the value of early disruption of potential terrorist acts by proactive prosecution of terrorism-related targets on less serious charges,” Mark Corallo, a Justice spokesman, said. “This strategy has proven to be an effective method of deterring and disrupting potential terrorist acts.”
The authors acknowledged that some of the most serious charges may still be working their way through the justice process; their resolution will likely increase the total number of people who receive lengthy sentences. Last week, a federal judge in Buffalo sentenced Mukhtar al-Bakri to 10 years in prison for providing material support to the Al Qaeda terrorist organization. He was among the “Lackawanna Six” charged in connection with attendance at an Al Qaeda-affiliated training camp in Afghanistan.