Robert Weisberg, a professor at Stanford Law School, and his colleague David Mills, a lecturer at Stanford Law School, write in a Slate op-ed (“The Case Against John Ashcroft: Why don’t Democrats condemn the disastrous attorney general?“):
We have seen major terrorist prosecutions brought with much political publicity fail with hardly a whimper. The major jury conviction his Justice Department finally did achieve in the war on terror occurred in Detroit, and those convictions were subsequently thrown out by the judge for prosecutorial misconduct. Even without the misconduct, that case was startlingly weak. In fact, there has been no terrorist conviction since 9/11. And as David Cole points out here, Ashcroft is now zero for 5,000, in that the Justice Department has detained 5,000 people on grounds that they are somehow connected to terrorismand convicted none.
The piece they link to, authored by Georgetown Law professor David Cole for The Nation, begins with the following passage:
With the latest Detroit convictions overturned, Ashcroft has not convicted a single person of terrorism since 9/11.
This myth is debunked here. When Paul Krugman made this same error earlier this year, he didn’t correct it. Maybe Slate and The Nation will do better. (Requests for corrections at Slate can be sent to email@example.com. Requests for corrections at The Nation can be sent via this online form.)
Update: A Stanford student writes:
Two weeks ago there was an event at SLS sponsored by the Federalist Society and their ideological nemeses, the American Constitution Society, featuring Ashcroft lawyer John Yoo debating traitor Johnny Walker Lindh’s lawyer, George Harris. The debate was held in the Stanford Law School on October 12 and was well publicized. How did these guys [Weisberg and Mills] miss it?
Johnny Walker Lindh was of course convicted by plea on charges of supporting the Taliban and carrying and explosive in the commission of a felony. given the circumstances of Lindh’s capture and arrest it is only the most sophistic and academic interpretation which would allow David Cole to pretend that this was not a “terrorist” prosecution merely because he was not charged with terrorism. (Here’s the plea agreement: http://www.usdoj.gov/ag/pleaagreement.htm)
Update II: Reader Ryan Claycamp writes,
Yeah, but how many terrorists has Bush killed since 9/11? That is the number that I care about. Demonstrates the mind-set between the left
and right, law enforcement and war. Of course it nice that this story
is wrong anyway, but we should really be concerned with the number of
terrorists killed, not successfully prosecuted.
Claycamp is right that the number of successful convictions is the wrong metric of success in the War on Terror. To its great credit, the Bush Administration has liquidated plenty of terrorists abroad and has detained others here at home. For more on the limitations of the law enforcement approach to terrorism, see here, here, here, and here.
Update III: Another reader makes an excellent point:
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The idea that certain writers (ie. Paul Krugman) would want to underscore, correctly or incorrectly, the fact that there hasn’t been any convictions for terrorism post 9/11 is telling. They decry Attorney General John
Ashcroft as a heavy-handed enforcer of the Patriot Act. They also seem
more inclined to see the current war on terror as an effort in law
enforcement. Now, if John Ashcroft is having difficulty securing
convictions despite a willingness to “violate” the civil liberties of those
he is attempting to persecute, how will a more “sensitive” John Kerry
improve prosecutorial performance?
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