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Sessions Responds to Misleading DoJ Terror Stats
Friday, March 26, 2010
“It is simply disingenuous for the Attorney General to argue that these cases demonstrate that captured enemy combatants, as classified under the 2009 Military Commissions Act, are better tried in civilian rather than military court.”
WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, made the following comments regarding documents provided today by the Department of Justice. In a letter sent to Sessions, DoJ officials provided the names of 403 individuals reportedly charged or convicted of terrorism-related offenses. Similar figures have long been used by the administration to justify civilian trials for captured terrorists, including KSM. For the past 10 months, Republicans had been asking for the names of these individuals, arguing that most of the cases likely did not involve prosecutions of high-value foreign terrorists or enemy combatants.
“The information provided today confirms what Republicans have been saying all along—and removes perhaps the last remaining pillar underneath the Attorney General’s collapsing argument for the civilian trial of Khalid Sheik Mohammed.
“It is clear why the Attorney General was so reluctant to provide it.
“The Attorney General assured senators that KSM’s trial in New York City was ‘in the best interests of the American people in terms of safety.’ He justified that assertion by claiming that 300 terrorists were already safely convicted and in prison. In other words, the Attorney General was saying we’ve done this 300 times before and we can do it again.
“But we now know this is simply not true. The great majority of the terrorism cases cited by the Attorney General are in no way comparable to KSM’s case. Most of the convictions in this list are for far lesser offenses, such as document fraud and immigration violations, while only a small handful concern conduct even remotely similar to a mass-casualty terrorist attack. And none are on the level of KSM, who masterminded 9/11.
“Among the cases cited is that of Zaccarias Moussaoui, which was fraught with procedural problems, delays, appeals, risks to classified evidence, and even a lone holdout juror who spared the 20th hijacker the death penalty. Due to gaps in federal law, many of the problems prosecutors encountered in the Moussaoui trial will be experienced in future terrorism trials. In fact, just this week, the Justice Department finally conceded that, contrary to the prior assertions of the Attorney General, military commissions have better safeguards than the criminal justice system to protect classified material.
“The figures released today also contradict the Attorney General’s claims on the Christmas Day Bomber: two of the terrorists on this list were placed in military custody precisely because the criminal justice system severely limits our ability to gather intelligence.
“Moreover, the overwhelming bulk of these cases are for acts committed by U.S. citizens—which KSM and the Christmas Bomber are not—and occurred before military commissions became fully operational in 2008.
“It is simply disingenuous for the Attorney General to argue that these cases demonstrate that captured enemy combatants, as classified under the 2009 Military Commissions Act, are better tried in civilian rather than military court.
“Military commissions are consistent with our laws, history, security, and values, yet there were zero military commission proceedings in 2009. There is no remaining excuse for the administration to continue rejecting them.”
[Note: please find below a list of previous requests by Judiciary Republicans on this matter over the past 10 months. Today’s letter marks the first substantive response from the Department of Justice.]
May 29, 2009: Senator Kyl wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder to request the basis of President Obama’s claim in a May 21, 2009 speech that, “our federal ‘supermax’ prisons… hold hundreds of convicted terrorists.” Specifically, Senator Kyl requested details about the names, offenses, and locations of the “terrorists” to whom the President referred. Senator Kyl’s letter explained that “a comparison of terrorists in federal prisons to terrorists detained at Guantanamo is instructive only if the severity of their actions and their backgrounds and allegiances are equivalent.”
June 17, 2009: At the Senate Judiciary Committee’s June 17, 2009 oversight hearing, Senator Kyl cited his letter to the Attorney General, noted that he had not received a response, and stated that he would be resubmitting his question in writing following the hearing:
“I had asked in a letter, that I sent back in May, for some information following up on the president's speech, when he talked about the fact that our supermax facilities holds hundreds of convicted terrorists. I had written asking if you could break that down for us. I don't have a response.
“So, let me just do this. I'm going to submit, for the record, a question, because I know you can't answer just sitting there here—but to find out who—who they are, what kind of categories of folks that—that they are, if there are any that are really comparable to the high-value detainees that are at Guantanamo today, that would be very helpful to us.”
June 24, 2009: Senator Kyl renewed the request from his letter through a written question to Attorney General Holder following the Judiciary Committee’s June 17, 2009 oversight hearing. On October 29, 2009, the Department of Justice replied to Senator Kyl’s question with a non-responsive answer. Specifically, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich stated that the Department could not provide a list of inmates due to federal regulations. He went on to say, “A number of individuals with a history of, or nexus to, international or domestic terrorism are currently being held in federal prisons, each of whom was tried and convicted in an Article III court. The Attorney General considers all crimes of terrorism to be serious.”
November 18, 2009: At the Committee’s November 2009 oversight hearing, Senator Sessions asked Attorney General Holder if he would commit to answering Senator Kyl’s requests and noted Attorney General Holder’s claim that some 300 inmates in federal custody had been convicted of terrorism charges. Attorney General Holder responded, “I will supply you with those 300 names and what they were convicted of. I'll be glad to do that.”
November 25, 2009: Senator Sessions submitted the following written question to Attorney General Holder to obtain a response to the then-6 month old questions about the administration claims on terrorists in BOP custody:
“In your opening testimony, you stated that ‘there are more than 300 convicted international and domestic terrorists currently in Bureau of Prisons custody.’ In response to my question, you stated without reservation that you would provide the details regarding these convictions. Please provide the details regarding each of these convictions, including: (a) the names and dates of the individuals convicted; (b) the offense(s) with which they were charged; (c) the offense(s) for which they were convicted; (d) the sentences imposed; and (e) the year the criminal case was instituted via indictment.”
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