[JURIST] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] released information Friday on hundreds of people tried and convicted in federal courts on charges related to international terrorism since 9/11. The National Security Division (NSD) [official website] chart [text, PDF] has been maintained since the September 2001 attacks [JURIST news archive], and includes the name, charges, and sentences of 403 people, according to a letter [text] describing its contents. The chart divides the list into two categories. The first, including 159 names, comprises those convicted of crimes directly related to international terrorism, such as the use of weapons of mass destruction or terrorist acts against US nationals. The second category, including 244 names, is made up of those convicted of crimes not directly related to international terrorism, but with demonstrable links to it. In the letter, addressed to Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Ranking Member Jeff Sessions (R-AL) of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legislative Affairs [official websites] Ronald Weich explained the inclusion of the second category and outlined the benefits of federal trials:
Prosecuting terror-related targets using [the] ... offenses [in the second category] is often an effective method ... of deterring and disrupting potential terrorist planning and support activities. Indeed, one of the great strengths of the criminal justice system is the broad range of offenses that are available to arrest and convict individuals believed to be linked to terrorism, even if a terrorism offense cannot be established. ... Arresting and convicting both major and minor operatives, supporters, and facilitators can have crippling effects on terrorists' ability to carry out their plans.Sessions has been highly critical [press release] of the composition of the NSD chart, noting that few of the convicts included on the list have committed acts on the level of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], the alleged 9/11 planner, and noted problems with the criminal prosecution of terror suspects. Sessions explained:
The great majority of the terrorism cases cited ... are in no way comparable to [that of Mohammed]. Most of the convictions in this list are for far lesser offenses, such as document fraud and immigration violations, while only a small handful concern conduct even remotely similar to a mass-casualty terrorist attack. ... Among the cases cited is that of Zacarias Moussaoui, which was fraught with procedural problems, delays, appeals, risks to classified evidence, and even a lone holdout juror who spared the 20th hijacker the death penalty. Due to gaps in federal law, many of the problems prosecutors encountered in the Moussaoui trial will be experienced in future terrorism trials.In addition to Zaccarias Moussaoui, those listed in the first category include David Headley, Najibullah Zazi [JURIST news archives], and Richard Reid [BBC profile].
The Obama administration has faced intense criticism over its plans to try those held at Guantanamo Bay and others accused of terrorist acts in federal courts, as opposed to the military commissions [JURIST news archive] favored by the previous administration. Two weeks ago, US Attorney General Eric Holder [official website], appearing before a House Appropriations [official website] subcommittee, defended his intention to try [JURIST report] suspected terrorists, including Mohammed, in federal court. In January, New York University's Center on Law and Security [official website] found that federal courts have had an 89 percent conviction rate [JURIST report] in terrorism cases since 2001.