Sunday, June 12, 2005

# Posted 11:20 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

HOW MANY TERRORISTS HAVE WE CAUGHT HERE AT HOME? Last Thursday, George W. Bush said that
Since September the 11th, federal terrorism investigations have resulted in charges against more than 400 suspects, and more than half of those charged have been convicted.
That quote from the president serves as the launching point for a major WaPo article/investigation into whether the Justice Department has actually caught as many terrorists as Bush says. The investigation concludes that Justice has only won 39 convictions on charges related to terrorism, rather than 200. Moreover, the majority of those convictions have nothing to do with either Al Qaeda or any other groups planning attacks on the United States.

For some, even the number 39 represents vindication. As Michelle Malkin points out, Paul Krugman is fond of saying that the Justice Department hasn't put a single terrorist in jail. Malkin offers no defense of Bush's statistics, however.

What I would add is that there are two important points that the article doesn't explore, presumably because of space limitations. The first is why so few terrorists have been apprehended and imprisoned. The WaPo mentions in passing that its results
Raise the possibility that the presence of al Qaeda operatives and sympathizers within the United States is either limited or largely undetected, many terrorism experts say.
That's a pretty big distinction. If the answer is 'limited', one might say Bush deserves considerable credit for rolling up whatever Al Qaeda cells were in place. If the answer is 'undetected', then we may all be in very big trouble and have to ask whether the Patriot Act is doing its job.

Which leads me to my second point. The purpose of Bush's speech on Thursday was to defend the Patriot Act and illustrate how it contributes to the search for terrorists in the United States. The WaPo investigation doesn't say much at all about whether the 39 convictions it identified were made possible by the Patriot Act. While it would be more impressive if the Act were responsible for 200 convictions, 39 may well be enough to justify the continuation of those Patriot Act provisions that are set to expire in the coming months.
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