“We also have to come up with punishment that’s far quicker and far greater than the punishment these animals are getting right now. They’ll go through court for years. And, at the end, they’ll be — who knows what happens. We need quick justice and we need strong justice — much quicker and much stronger than we have right now. Because what we have right now is a joke and it’s a laughingstock. And no wonder so much of this stuff takes place.”
—President Trump, remarks to reporters, Nov. 1
After the arrest of Sayfullo Saipov, who was accused of killing eight people in Manhattan with a rental truck, allegedly in support of the Islamic State militant group, President Trump decried the U.S. legal system as “a joke” and “a laughingstock.” His press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, explained later that the president “was voicing his frustration with the lengthy process that often comes with a case like this.”
Whether a legal process is lengthy is, of course, an opinion and not easily fact-checked. But it is possible to document how long it took to get from arrest or indictment to conviction in major cases.
With the help of the staff of Human Rights First, an advocacy group that supports keeping terrorism-related cases in U.S. courts, we have compiled a list of 23 major terrorism-related cases, largely drawn from a list of more than 600 terrorism-related convictions since 2001 obtained by the group from the Justice Department via a Freedom of Information Act request. (The data in the DOJ list goes through December 2015.)
In some cases, militants might have been indicted earlier but only arrived in the United States months or years later, after they were captured and extradited. In those instances, we date from when the legal process began in the United States.
You will see that in most cases, the process took less than two years — or even a year. The longest case took 35 months. One case — the failed Times Square bomber — was completed in just seven weeks. The average duration between indictment and conviction of the 23 cases is 16.2 months.
Many militants ended up pleading guilty, which attests to the strength of the government’s case. Except in a handful of indictments, it’s difficult to see much evidence for Trump’s claim that terrorists “go through court for years.” (Only seven of the 23 cases took 24 months or more between extradition or indictment and conviction.) That is also apparent from reviewing the 600 cases in the DOJ document, though we did not obtain an average for all of those cases.
We sought a comment from the White House but did not receive a response.
As we said, whether the numbers here suggest a need for “much quicker and much stronger” justice is a matter of opinion. Readers can judge for themselves.
- Richard Reid (shoe bomber): arrested December 2001, pleaded guilty October 2002. (10 months)
- Wesam al-Delaema (conspired with Iraqi insurgents to target American troops): Extradited January 2007, pleaded guilty February 2009 (25 months)
- Aafia Siddiqui (MIT-trained Pakistani neuroscientist charged with attempted murder of U.S. nationals): Extradited August 2008, convicted February 2010. (18 months)
- Faisal Shahzad (failed Time Square bomber): Arrested May 2010, pleaded guilty June 2010. (seven weeks)
- Abdel Nur (John F. Kennedy Airport bomb plot): Extradited June 2008, pleaded guilty June 2010. (24 months)
- Abdul Kadir (John F. Kennedy Airport bomb plot): Extradited June 2008, convicted July 2010. (25 months)
- Kareem Ibrahim (John F. Kennedy Airport bomb plot): Extradited June 2008, convicted May 2011. (35 months)
- Ahmed Ghailani (al-Qaeda operative in 1998 bombing of embassies in Kenya and Tanzania): Originally in Guantanamo Bay facility, brought to federal court in November 2009, convicted in November 2010. (12 months)
- Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (underwear bomber): arrested December 2009, pleaded guilty October 2011. (22 months)
- Wesam el-Hanafi (helped in al-Qaeda plot against the New York Stock Exchange): Arrested April 2010, pleaded guilty June 2012. (22 months)
- Zachary Adam Chesser (Virginian man convicted of aiding al-Shabab): Arrested July 2010, pleaded guilty October 2010. (three months)
- Naser Jason Abdo (plotted to kill American soldiers near Fort Hood, Tex.): Charged August 2011, convicted May 2012. (nine months)
- Abu Khalid Abdul-Latif (plot to attack a military installation in Seattle): Charged June 2011, pleaded guilty December 2012. (18 months)
- Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame (coordinator between the Somali al-Shabab and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula): Indicted July 2011, pleaded guilty December 2011. (five months)
- Khalid al-Fawwaz (al-Qaeda member involved with 1998 East Africa embassy bombings): Extradited October 2012, convicted February 2015. (28 months)
- Adel Abdel Bary (al-Qaeda member involved with East Africa embassy bombings): Extradited October 2012, pleaded guilty September 2014. (23 months)
- Abu Hamza al-Masri (Egyptian cleric who took hostages and plotted to set up a terrorism training camp in the United States) Extradited October 2012, convicted May 2014 (19 months)
- Suleiman Abu Ghaith (al-Qaeda spokesman and Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law): captured in Jordan in March 2013, convicted March 2014. (12 months)
- Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (planted bombs at Boston Marathon): arrested in April 2013, convicted in April 2015. (24 months)
- Irek Hamidullin (Russian Taliban insurgent captured in Pakistan): Indicted October 2014, convicted December 2015. (26 months)
- Saddiq al-Abbadi (al-Qaeda member captured in Saudi Arabia and charged with killing an Army Ranger): Indicted January 2015, pleaded guilty May 2015. (four months)
- Muhanad Mahmoud al-Farekh (U.S. citizen involved in 2009 truck bombing of a U.S. Army base in Khost, Afghanistan): Extradited from Pakistan in April 2015, convicted September 2017. (17 months)
- Ahmad Khan Rahimi (planted two pressure-cooker bombs in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, injuring 30 people): Arrested Sept. 2016, convicted Oct. 2017. (13 months)
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