I just debated an official from Human Rights Watch on the NPR program “To the Point.” I was astounded to hear her argue that the Justice Department has successfully prosecuted “hundreds of terrorist suspects” since 9/11.
Usually, the Left’s position is that the terrorism problem is grossly overstated. The Justice Department, it is claimed, has vastly inflated its terrorism prosecution numbers both to heighten our sense of fear and to appear to be doing something meaningful to protect us.
The Justice Department, of course, does not claim to have prosecuted “hundreds” of people for terrorism offenses; it has investigated hundreds (hopefully, thousands) of people based on rationally grounded fears of terrorist activity or sympathy; but few people are actually charged with terrorism crimes. Many, instead, are deported or prosecuted for less serious offenses uncovered in the course of the investigations. This allows the government to neutralize them without having to compromise intelligence that it may not be able to use in court — because using it would reveal vital sources and methods of intelligence gathering, or would induce foreign intelligence services to stop telling us things, which would make us significantly less safe.
So why now, all of a sudden, is one of the leading “progressive” organizations, HRW, suggesting that Justice has actually racked up “hundreds” of successful prosecutions? Because of yesterday’s Fourth Circuit decision in the al-Marri enemy-combatant case (which I write about, here). By a 2-1 ruling, the court held that an alien terrorist who is lawfully in the United States may not be held without trial as an enemy combatant. He must, the court said, be handed over to the civilian courts for trial, deported or released — which, of course, means either giving jihadists lavish discovery of our intelligence while the war is going on, or letting them go to rejoin the jihad.
You see? Yesterday, the Left wanted to argue that terrorism prosecutions almost never happen, so DOJ’s numbers were inflated and there is no real threat to national security. Today, to defend the al-Marri decision, they want to argue that terrorism trials in the civilian courts happen all the time with no harm to national security, so DOJ’s doing a bang-up job and its numbers are just outstanding.
You gotta hand it to these guys. There’s always an answer for everything when every day is a new day that wipes the slate clean.