News About Terrorism in the Two Years After 9/11

Investigators Seek Prosecution of More than 6,400

But Only Five Get Twenty Years or More in Prison

Median or Typical Sentence for those Classified as
      International Terrorists is 14 Days

Syracuse, N.Y.— December 8 — In the two years since 9/11/01, federal investigators recommended the prosecution of more than 6,400 individuals the government concluded had committed terrorist acts or should be charged with some crime because doing so might "prevent or disrupt potential or actual terrorist threats."

The number of matters that the Justice Department classified as "terrorism" or "anti-terrorism" is sobering, considerably larger than suggested in department speeches, press releases and case-by-case news accounts.

An analysis of case-by-case Justice Department data obtained by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), however, further showed that of the individuals who were convicted only five have so far been sentenced to twenty years or more in prison and that for those categorized as international terrorists the median sentence -- half got more, half got less -- was 14 days.

CAUTION: Because of the natural delay in the processing of criminal matters, especially more serious ones, it is likely that when sentences are imposed on all those cases that are still pending the number of persons sentenced to five or more years will increase and the median sentence will be somewhat higher.

As a result of a decision by the Bush Administration to withhold information that the government previously had released to TRAC, an exact count of the number of individuals who the investigative agencies recommended be prosecuted and who the prosecutors then categorized as falling into one of two categories -- "terrorism" or "anti-terrorism" -- cannot be determined although a good estimate is possible. Records have been released, however, for those investigative referrals that were then declined, dismissed, convicted or otherwise dealt with.

In the last two years, the sentences imposed on individuals who the government concluded in one way or another might have some possible connection to terrorism is surprising. Equally curious, however, are the outcomes that emerge when the government's record in the two years before and the two years after 9/11/01 are compared.

Putting the anti-terrorism matters to one side, the government's case-by-case records show that in the post-9/11 period there were three and a half times more suspects convicted for what the government said were terrorist acts than in the pre-9/11 period. Despite this jump -- the number of convictions went from 96 to 341 -- the government's enforcement effort has not resulted in putting more terrorists behind bars for significant periods of time. Curiously, in fact, the number of defendants sentenced to five or more years in prison actually declined. There were 24 such sentences in cases initiated in the two years before the attacks, 16 in the two years after.

A similar decline was found even when the data analysis focused only on individuals that the government had classified as international terrorists. For this special group, in the two years before the attack, a grand total of six persons were sentenced to five or more years. In the two years after, only three received such sentences.

[For more information about these and many other findings concerning terrorism enforcement by the federal government go to http://trac.syr.edu/tracreports/terrorism/report031208.html]

TRAC is a non-partisan data gathering, research and data-distribution organization associated with Syracuse University. TRAC has been supported by the University, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Beldon Fund, the Rockefeller Family Fund, the New York Times Company Foundation and many other organizations.

WWW: http://trac.syr.edu
E-mail: trac@syr.edu
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Tel. (202) 518-9020
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