Federal Courts Continue to Take Lead in Counterterrorism Prosecutions
Washington, DC – U.S. federal courts convicted nearly 500 accused terrorists between 9/11 and December 31, 2011 according to new data released today by Human Rights First. The organization notes that the number of convictions is not itself an appropriate metric for judging the effectiveness of the criminal justice system, but it does show that federal courts have an established record of handling terrorism cases without jeopardizing national security interests. Today’s figures are based on information obtained from the Department of Justice following a Freedom of Information Act request filed by Human Rights First. DOJ last released this data in 2010. At that time, it had secured just over 400 convictions. “Federal courts offer four times more terrorism-related charges than military commissions and have demonstrated time and time again that they are capable of handling a broad spectrum of terrorism cases,” said Human Rights First’s Dixon Osburn. “It’s time for the administration to end its use of military commissions and rely on the most reliable tools it has in bringing terrorists to justice.” Federal courts offer a total of 133 terrorism-related charges that federal prosecutors can pursue, in stark contrast to the 30 charges available for those who face terrorism charges in the military commissions system – which has only produced seven convictions, including five plea bargains. The 494 terrorism-related convictions detailed in today’s release were secured in 60 district courts located in 37 states. The jurisdictions securing the highest number of convictions include 49 in the Eastern District of New York, 45 in the Eastern District of Michigan, 44 in the Southern District of New York, 35 in the Eastern District of Virginia and 28 in the Southern District of Florida. “Federal cases do not endanger communities, as some have tried to argue in attempts to move these cases to military commissions,” Osburn observed. “From district courts located in Maine and Alaska to courtrooms in New York City and Los Angeles, communities of all types have successfully hosted these cases without incident. The bottom line is that federal courts work and are where these cases belong.” Among the newest terrorism-related convictions secured since the Department of Justice last released this data are “Underwear Bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and Faisal Shahzad, who attempted to set off a car bomb in Times Square. This new data comes just days before pre-trial hearings are to resume in the military commission prosecution of Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, who faces charges for his alleged role in the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole. Earlier this year, the military commission proceedings against the alleged 9/11 conspirators, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, began at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. The cases had previously been slated for federal prosecution in the Southern District of New York.