U.S. misstates war on terror stats
ART LIEN/AFP/Getty Images In the current issue of FP, we flagged the Terror Trial Report Card, a report by NYU’s Center for Law and Security that tracks the U.S. government’s courtroom response to the war on terror. NYU’s findings are striking: Of more than 500 terror cases filed by the U.S. Justice Department since 9/11, ...
ART LIEN/AFP/Getty Images
In the current issue of FP, we flagged the Terror Trial Report Card, a report by NYU’s Center for Law and Security that tracks the U.S. government’s courtroom response to the war on terror. NYU’s findings are striking: Of more than 500 terror cases filed by the U.S. Justice Department since 9/11, just four individuals have been convicted of terrorism. NYU found that in the vast amount of cases, terror links that were often announced at big news conferences were later discreetly dropped before the cases reached court. The evidence for terror links often just didn’t stand up.
Now, an independent government audit has come to the same conclusion, accusing the Justice Department of routinely counting cases as terrorism-related even when there are no evident links to terrorism. Republican Senator Charles Grassley even suggested there may be a nefarious motive behind the inflated statistics. Because Justice uses the numbers to cite successes in the war on terror and request resources from Congress, there may be something to his suggestion.
At the same time, what do the stats really reveal? Robert Chesney, a law professor at Wake Forest who blogs at National Security Advisors, suggests that numbers tell us very little. Simply knowing the number of prosecutions detracts from the allegations in them, and that obscures what trends and crimes are emerging and keeping Justice officials up at night. In other words, I have little doubt that there’s a stronger incentive to label a case as terrorism-related than not, but at the end of the day, I’m more interested in the facts of certain cases than the bottom-line statistics. What do you think?
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