Center on Law and Security's newest Terrorist Trial  Report Card analyzes eight years of terrorism prosecutions

The Center on Law and Security has released the latest installment of its Terrorist Trial Report Card, a product of the center’s exhaustive efforts to compile and analyze data on the U.S. government’s prosecution of terrorism suspects since 9/11. The newest Report Card, roughly six times the length of previous editions, pursues the bigger picture on courtroom counterterrorism, analyzing eight years of data on federal terrorism prosecutions.

In her introduction to the Report Card, Karen Greenberg, executive director of the Center on Law and Security and the publication’s editor-in-chief, noted that “this year’s Terrorist Trial Report Card reveals much about the government’s changing legal strategies, the varied biographies of the defendants, and the nature of the threat. As the number of prosecutions approaches 1,000, federal prosecutors have shifted strategies and courts have honed their ability to try alleged terrorists. An early practice of making high-profile arrests while prosecuting few terrorism charges eroded public trust and muddied assessments of the nature and scale of the threat after 9/11.”

But the government has become more effective in its use of the criminal justice system, Greenberg argued. “An increasing percentage of convictions involve the more serious charges, and a growing percentage of those accused of terrorism are convicted. Overall, the Justice Department has adopted a more disciplined approach, promising less in its public pronouncements and delivering more in the courtroom.” The government has pursued more than 800 prosecutions, with an overall conviction rate of nearly 90 percent. The Report Card notes that only 11 percent of individual defendants were linked to al Qaeda, that most defendants with known origins are U.S. citizens, and that the most common terrorist affiliation was with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

Overall, Greenberg wrote, in the years since 9/11 “the Department of Justice’s understanding of terrorism cases has grown exponentially in terms of its patience in building a case, its understanding of the threats posed by terrorists, and its willingness to focus on terrorism and other serious charges.... Federal prosecution has demonstrably become a powerful tool in many hundreds of cases, not only for incapacitating terrorists but also for intelligence gathering. Much of the government’s knowledge of terrorist groups has come from testimony and evidence produced in grand jury investigations, including information provided by cooperators, and in the resulting trials.”

Posted on January 25, 2010