Human Rights Watch has released a scathing report on the FBI's conduct with regard to how it investigates possible terrorism suspects and in some cases, creates them.
The Guardian reports:
"In some cases the FBI may have created terrorists out of law-abiding individuals by suggesting the idea of taking terrorist action or encouraging the target to act," the report alleges.
Out of the 494 cases related to terrorism the US has tried since 9/11, the plurality of convictions – 18% overall – are not for thwarted plots but for "material support" charges, a broad category expanded further by the 2001 Patriot Act that permits prosecutors to pursue charges with tenuous connections to a terrorist act or group.
In one such incident, the initial basis for a material-support case alleging a man provided "military gear" to al-Qaida turned out to be waterproof socks in his luggage.
Several cases featured years-long solitary confinement for accused terrorists before their trials. Some defendants displayed signs of mental incapacity. Jurors for the 2007 plot to attack the Fort Dix army base, itself influenced by government informants, were anonymous, limiting defense counsel's ability to screen out bias.
Human Rights Watch’s findings call into question the post-9/11 shift taken by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies toward stopping terrorist plots before they occur. While the vast majority of counterterrorism tactics involved are legally authorized, particularly after Congress and successive administrations relaxed restrictions on law enforcement and intelligence agencies for counterterrorism, they suggest that the government’s zeal to protect Americans has in some cases morphed into manufacturing threats.
The report focuses primarily on 27 cases and accordingly stops short of drawing systemic conclusions. It also finds several trials and convictions for "deliberate attempts at terrorism or terrorism financing" that it does not challenge.
The four high-profile domestic plots it found free of government involvement were the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing; Najibullah Zazi's 2009 plot to bomb the New York subway; the attempted Times Square carbombing of 2010; and the 2002 shooting at Los Angeles International Airport's El Al counter.
Their conduct, as described in the report, would be cartoonish if it were not so destructive. They targeted people based on their religion, nationality, and seemed to especially exploit those individuals with emotional and mental issues.
In most cases, they used an informant to befriend and lure them into conduct which was considered to be "material support" for terrorism.
This is truly reprehensible conduct. The FBI needs some serious realignment and oversight, sooner rather than later. Our laws could use some work, too, since they have been broadened over the years to erode due process rights while enabling entrapment as a legal means of snaring "potential" terrorists.