On Thursday, President Bush stepped to a lectern at the Ohio State Highway Patrol Academy in Columbus to urge renewal of the USA Patriot Act and to boast of the government’s success in prosecuting terrorists. Flanked by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, Bush said that “federal terrorism investigations have resulted in charges against more than 400 suspects, and more than half of those charged have been convicted.”
Those statistics have been used repeatedly by Bush and other administration officials, including Gonzales and his predecessor, John D. Ashcroft, to characterize the government’s efforts against terrorism. But the numbers are misleading at best.
An analysis of the Justice Department’s own list of terrorism prosecutions by The Washington Post shows that 39 people – not 200, as officials have implied – were convicted of crimes related to terrorism or national security.
Most of the others were convicted of relatively minor crimes such as making false statements and violating immigration law – and had nothing to do with terrorism, the analysis shows. For the entire list, the median sentence was just 11 months.