Last year, when Republicans criticized the law-enforcement model of counterterrorism adopted by the Obama administration, Attorney General Eric Holder rebutted the argument by claiming that the US had successfully imprisoned 300 terrorists through the federal court system. This came as news to Congress, since the sudden wave of terrorists had escaped their notice, and Senator Jon Kyl asked Holder to supply him with a list of the cases. And to this day, Kyl is … still asking:
But there’s one serious factual debate going on about Holder’s letter, and that concerns those “300 individuals.” Just who are they?
It turns out some lawmakers have been trying for months to get an answer. They’re not saying the claim is false — they just want to see what it’s based on. But so far they haven’t been able to find out. …
Weeks passed, and then months, with no response. Then, last October, Kyl got an answer, of sorts, from Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich. Citing federal regulations, Weich said he “cannot provide … a list of Bureau of Prisons inmates,” although he said the department could give Kyl “briefings about terrorism suspects housed in federal prisons generally.”
As for whether the inmates’ crimes are comparable with those of high-value prisoners at Guantanamo, Weich responded, “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 a [civilian] court. The attorney general considers all crimes of terrorism to be serious.”
Weich’s words raised all sorts of red flags. “History of, or nexus to” — what did that mean, precisely? “International or domestic terrorism” — what about that? Just who was the Justice Department including in the 300 figure?
On Nov. 18, Holder appeared again before the Judiciary Committee. Asked yet again, he was perfectly agreeable. “I will supply you with those 300 names and what they were convicted of,” Holder said. “I’ll be glad to do that.”
Now, two and a half more months have passed, with no answer. And in Holder’s new letter, he repeats the “300 individuals” claim.
Unfortunately, Americans have some experience with government officials basing arguments on lists that don’t really exist. Since Holder and Barack Obama claim that we have these men in prison through the federal courts, the names should be open to the public. They have used this argument for nine months, and have yet to provide any proof of its veracity.
As Byron York points out, they have also attempted to alter the meaning of “terrorism” as a fallback position. The men in Gitmo weren’t captured because they had a “history of” or “nexus to” terrorism, neither of which alone would cause a federal judge to throw a defendant in prison. We captured them in the acts of terrorism and conspiracy to commit terrorism, and furthermore, we captured them abroad with military and intelligence assets, not with policemen. “History” and “nexus” should be construed to mean, We didn’t convict them of terrorism but of other crimes instead.
The Obama administration appears to be creating a bit of mythology with their little list of imprisoned criminals with “histories” and “nexuses.” If the White House wants to continue making this argument, then they need to produce the list and the charges that resulted in their imprisonment.