Critics See Terrorism Prosecution Blunders

Critics contend the government’s effort to fight terrorism may be harmed by recent missteps in terrorism prosecutions.

The government has failed to winnow out weak cases and targeted groups that are not central to the terrorist threat, critics told the New York Times for its news analysis. In the most recent setback, a judge declared a mistrial in the federal prosecution of five officials with the Holy Land Foundation, accused of helping fund the militant group Hamas.

Holy Land juror William Neal said the government presented evidence that was sometimes stale and sometimes irrelevant. The evidence “was pieced together over the course of a decade—a phone call this year, a message another year,” he said. He would have preferred that prosecutors introduce evidence showing the defendants knew they were supporting terrorists instead of “videos of little kids in bomb belts and people singing about Hamas, things that didn’t directly relate to the case.”

The government’s success rate varies based on the cases that are counted. The ABA Journal concluded the government had 31 wins, six losses and one tie in major cases brought in its legal war against al-Qaida. But the success rate was cited at a low 29 percent in a 2006 report (PDF) reviewing announced terrorism prosecutions against 510 individuals, according to the Center on Law and Security at New York University School of Law. The ABA Journal published another broader count showing the government obtained 2,972 convictions out of 3,984 prosecutions completed.

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