Terrorism has become a significant problem in several of those countries in recent years, obviously. The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland (START) collects annual data on terrorist attacks around the world. The number of attacks has increased sharply in recent years, as the consortium’s data shows — with attacks in those seven countries rising along with them.
In 2014, there were more deaths from terrorist attacks in those seven countries than in any year before 2013 globally.
Most of this increase is due to the deterioration of stability in these areas overlapping with the increase in the use of terrorism as a weapon of conflict. But the number of attacks there doesn’t bear any relationship to the number of attacks here.
As our Mark Berman noted on Monday, those involved in successful terrorist attacks on American soil since and including Sept. 11, 2001, were not born in any of the seven countries included in Trump’s ban.
In fact, none of those countries top the list of most detainees at Guantanamo Bay over its history as a detention center for the war on terror. That list is led by Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, with Yemen, Pakistan and Algeria closing out the five most common nations of origin.
In the summer, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) — now Trump’s pick to lead the Justice Department — released data on the national origins of those arrested on the suspicion of planning terrorist attacks. Of the 580 people arrested from 2001 to 2014, 380 were born outside the United States. The most common birthplaces of those people? Pakistan, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories and, in fourth, Somalia.
It makes sense that Afghanistan would top the list at Guantanamo Bay, of course, given that so many of the Guantanamo detainees were captured on the battlefields in that country. But remember that the genesis for the ban is the risk of fighters from the seven countries arriving in the United States. Afghanistan and Pakistan have seen large increases in terrorist attacks as well in recent years, akin to those of the other seven countries. In 2015, START data indicates that there were nearly half as many deaths due to terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan (7,814) as in the seven banned countries combined (17,446).
Pakistan is also closer to the top of another list compiled by Sessions shortly before the 2016 election. That list tallied the number of people in the United States who faced orders of removal and who hailed from countries that refused to accept those orders. Pakistan was sixth on that chart, as well.
In other words, Trump’s ban is both sweeping and unexpectedly targeted. The government has information that we lack that certainly drives decisions like the original visa restrictions placed in 2011. But if the goal of the policy is actually to protect Americans — and not simply to be able to deliver on a campaign promise of cracking down broadly on hot spots — Trump’s list is either too long or too short.