Study: Disagreements Over Who Is a Terrorist Undermining Civil Liberties

Thousands Charged as Terrorists Never Go to Trial

A new study from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University cautions that the inability of federal agencies to agree on exactly what is meant by “terrorist” is “weakening efforts to use the criminal law to combat terrorism and at the same time undermining civil liberties.”

The study looked at 8,900 cases referred by federal investigators for prosecution, noting that in nearly 6,000 instances the case was closed without any action citing lack of evidence or criminal intent.

It also found that among those referred as “terrorists” which were actually charged in federal court over a third of them were not charged with any crimes related to terrorism and were categorized as having “no connection to terrorism” by prosecutors.

The trend is actually growing. which TRAC sees as a “disturbing” sign, noting that while only 31% of referrals in 2002 failed to result in prosecution 73% of those in 2008 ended that way.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.