Last week, President Bush declared that “federal terrorism investigations have resulted in charges against more than 400 suspects, and more than half of those charged have been convicted.” The the numbers are misleading at best, reports the Washington Post. An analysis of the Justice Department’s list of terrorism prosecutions by The Washington Post shows that only 39 people were convicted of crimes related to terrorism or national security. Most of the others were convicted of minor crimes such as making false statements and violating immigration law. The median prison sentence was just 11 months.
The data indicate that federal efforts to identify terrorists in the U.S. have been less successful than authorities have suggested. Except for a small number of well-known cases — such as truck driver Iyman Faris, who sought to take down the Brooklyn Bridge — few arrestees appear to have been involved in active U.S. plots. Among people charged as a result of terrorism probes in the three years after Sept. 11, 2001, The Post found no demonstrated connection to terrorism or terrorist groups for 180 of them. The prosecution of 20 men, most of them Iraqis, in a Pennsylvania truck-licensing scam accounts for about 10 percent of convictions, and the entire group was publicly absolved of ties to terrorism in 2001.