Is the FBI Creating Terrorists to Pad Counterterrorism Conviction Rates?

‘In the case of the “Newburgh Four,” for example, a judge said the government “came up with the crime, provided the means, and removed all relevant obstacles,” and had, in the process, made a terrorist out of a man “whose buffoonery is positively Shakespearean in scope.”‘
— from the Summary, “Illusion of Justice: Human Rights Abuses in US Terrorism Prosecutions

Bill Berkowitz's picture

Let’s start with a premise I think we can all agree with: There have been no 9/11-type attacks on United States soil since, well, 9/11. Here’s another statement we all probably agree with: The federal government has all sorts of arrows in its quiver when it comes to gathering intelligence to thwart such attacks. And that is where it begins to gets dicey: Unfortunately, in its counterterrorism project, the government appears to be relying more and more on perhaps the most twisted of those arrows; the use of informants, coerced and/or rewarded, entrapment, and the sting.

Since the September 2001 terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, the federal government has obtained more than 500 federal counterterrorism convictions. According to a new Human Rights Watch report (produced in association with Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute), “nearly 50 percent of [those] … convictions resulted from informant-based cases; almost 30 percent of those cases were sting operations in which the informant played an active role in the underlying plot.”

The report, “Illusion of Justice: Human Rights Abuses in US Terrorism Prosecutions,” points out that, while “[m]any prosecutions have properly targeted individuals engaged in planning or financing terror attacks… many others have targeted individuals who do not appear to have been involved in terrorist plotting or financing at the time the government began to investigate them.

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