President Bush has staked his claim for reelection on his performance in
the war on terrorism. But are we safer?
The war on terrorism certainly has not made the world a safer place. For a
brief moment this year, the State Department claimed that terrorism
incidents worldwide had fallen — until it admitted a week later that it
had miscounted and that in fact terrorist incidents were on the rise.
And what of the situation at home? Thankfully, there has not been a
terrorist attack on U.S. soil since Sept. 11. But despite Atty. Gen. John
Ashcroft’s insistence that “domestic warriors” at the federal, state and
local levels have used the Patriot Act to “hunt down Al Qaeda, destroy
their safe haven and save American lives,” the record offers little basis
for such a claim.
Consider the centerpiece of the domestic war on terrorism — preventive
detention. In the first seven weeks after Sept. 11, the Justice Department
admitted to detaining nearly 1,200 men as “suspected terrorists,” nearly
all foreign nationals. It subsequently adopted two anti-terrorism
immigration initiatives that were aimed at men from Arab and Muslim
countries on the theory that they were more likely to be terrorists. Those
programs led to the detention of nearly 4,000 more people.
Yet of these, not one stands convicted of any terrorist offense. The
administration’s record is 0 for 5,000.
In all, the Justice Department boasts that its terrorism investigations
have led to more than 300 criminal indictments, more than 100 convictions
and more than 500 deportation orders. But the convictions are almost all
for minor charges, not terrorism. Researchers at Syracuse University found
that the median sentence imposed in cases labeled “terrorist” by the
Justice Department in the two years after 9/11 was 14 days.
As for the 500 deportations, the Justice Department fails to note that most
were carried out under a policy that specifically barred deportation unless
an individual was first cleared of any connection to terrorism. These are
misses, not hits