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Criticism Of Holder's Decision On Terror Trials Is Flawed

First Posted: 04/11/10 06:12 AM ET Updated: 05/25/11 04:30 PM ET

Holder

The latest criticism of Attorney General Eric Holder for his decision to try terror suspects in the U.S. criminal justice system turns out to be hugely hypocritical: Republicans are attacking Holder for quoting a statistic that it turns out was first promulgated by the Bush administration.
Last week, several top GOP officials accused Holder of fabricating a claim that the Department of Justice had successfully tried 300 individuals on terrorism-related charges using the criminal justice system.

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) insisted, flat out, that the number wasn't true. "If there were [300 convictions]," he said, "we would have heard about them." Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) called the claim "unsubstantiated" and demanded to know where it came from. Former Bush press secretary Dana Perino was even blunter, deeming Holder's assertion baffling. "The 300 number is as false as false gets," she declared.

Perino may be right to suggest that the number is misleadingly inflated by a generous categorization of what constitutes terrorism, so as to make the Justice Department look more proficient. But if the former Bush press secretary has a gripe with the statistic, she should have taken it up with her former colleagues.

Back in the FY 2009 Budget request submitted to Congress in 2008 (under the prior administration), it was the Bush Justice Department that cited the 300+ figure -- not once, but twice -- as evidence of its success in combating and punishing terrorist activity.

Since 2001, the Department has increased its capacity to investigate terrorism and has identified, disrupted, and dismantled terrorist cells operating in the United States. These efforts have resulted in the securing of 319 convictions or guilty pleas in terrorism or terrorism-related cases arising from investigations conducted primarily after September 11, 2001, and zero terrorist attacks on American soil by foreign nationals from 2003 through 2007.

And:

The Department has made significant strides in the global war on terror by identifying, disrupting, and defeating terrorist plots within the United States and ensuring those responsible are brought to justice. Since September 11, 2001, the Department has charged 512 individuals with terrorism or terrorism-related crimes and convicted or obtained guilty pleas in 319 terrorism-related and anti-terrorism cases.‪‪

Clearly, in 2008, the Bush administration was eager to tout its record in trying terrorists in the criminal justice system (military tribunals did not present equal successes). And they did so by publicizing the number of convictions. At the time, some Democrats were skeptical of the veracity of such figures. But Republicans, including Sessions, defended the record of the White House. With a change in executive power, the roles suddenly reversed.

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