The Cable

What Will Loretta Lynch’s Approach to Prosecuting Terrorism Look Like?

With people from Minnesota to California to Colorado to New York recently charged or convicted for ties to the Islamic State, it looks like Loretta Lynch is going to be overseeing a lot of terrorism cases when she’s likely confirmed as attorney general.

lynch

With people from Minnesota to California to Colorado to New York having recently been charged or convicted for ties to the Islamic State, it looks like Loretta Lynch is going to be overseeing a lot of terrorism cases when she’s likely confirmed as attorney general.

The Senate is expected to confirm Lynch after its leaders on Tuesday announced a political deal sidestepping the issue of abortion funding in an anti-human-trafficking bill that had stymied the process.

Once she takes office, Lynch should be in a strong position to deal with the high number of recent terrorism cases, said Karen Greenberg, director of Fordham Law School’s Center on National Security.

“She’s coming from the Eastern District of New York, which in its own quiet and steady way has been doing terrorism cases since right after 9/11,” Greenberg said. Those cases include a plot to blow up New York’s Federal Reserve Bank, and one to bomb the New York subway.

Lynch’s expertise is important because only a few U.S. federal courts — in New York and Virginia, for example — have much experience trying terrorism cases, Greenberg said. Meanwhile, she said, this year’s number of terrorism-related charges, if it continues, may be “as high a rate as we’ve seen since 9/11.”

Lynch will still have to clarify a few issues during her time as Attorney General. One outstanding matter, Greenberg said, is the need for more nuanced sentencing in terrorism cases, with less extreme sentences for less serious acts or plans.

Political pressure also continues to litigate terrorism cases at Guantánamo Bay, although the Obama administration has had success focusing instead on trying suspects in federal courts, said Daphne Eviatar, senior counsel in Human Rights First’s Law and Security Program. Military commissions have only prosecuted eight people since 9/11, compared with hundreds of terrorism cases heard in federal courts, Eviatar said. She predicted that Lynch would continue to bring suspects to federal courts.

It’s also likely that Lynch will have to deal with questions about the legality of drone strikes. A group of U.S. senators recently filed motions to support the American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Times’ Freedom of Information Act requests for Justice Department memos on drone strike decisions.

The case of Mohanad Mahmoud Al Farekh, a U.S. citizen the government had considered killing in a drone strike, who now instead faces terrorism charges in the federal courts system, has raised the issue of whether such individuals “would be brought to trial, or would they be droned,” Greenberg said.

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Justine Drennan was a fellow at Foreign Policy. She previously reported from Cambodia for the Associated Press and other outlets. @jkdrennan

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