Sunday, February 07, 2010
Republicans have been hitting the Obama administration for Attorney General Eric Holder's too-quick decision to Mirandize accused Christmas bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab after a mere 50 minutes of what has been described as valuable interrogation. After the Miranda moment, the would-be bomber clammed up.
Critics argue that the FBI did not need to tell the Nigerian citizen that he had a right to remain silent and to an attorney. For one thing, he is not a U.S. citizen, but arguably an "enemy combatant" caught entering the country intent on committing an act of war. And even if he were a U.S. citizen, a "public-safety exception" for putting off a Miranda reading is recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court. So how do the Obamans defend this clear mistake?
The answer: By reminding people that President George W. Bush allowed accused terrorists to be Mirandized first. As if that makes Holder's decision smart and solid.
On Wednesday, Holder sent a letter to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell that noted that the decision to try Abdulmutallab in criminal court and interrogate him a la Miranda was consistent with "policies and practices" adopted by previous administrations and "were not criticized when employed by previous administrations."
Be it noted, Obama and other Dems were in no position to criticize the Bushies for being too easy on terrorists because they were so busy kicking them for being too tough on the likes of accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. And Republicans had their hands full defending Bush against efforts to weaken intelligence-gathering.
Holder also noted that under Bush, law enforcement officials advised now-convicted shoe-bomber Richard Reid, a British citizen, "of his right to remain silent and to consult with an attorney within five minutes of being removed from the aircraft" Reid tried to blow up.
Bush supporters have responded by noting that military tribunals were not operational when Reid was arrested in December 2001, hence, his treatment was mirrored that of any other accused criminal. That still doesn't mean it was a swell idea to Mirandize Reid before actionable intelligence might have been gleaned.
At Senate Intelligence Committee hearings last week, Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, grilled Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller on the premature Mirandizing of Abdulmutallab. Mueller nonsensically responded that "fast-moving" events prompted the decision.
"So what were the fast-moving events of that day that necessitated issuing his Miranda rights?" Snowe asked. "I'm not clear on that. What was the rush?"
Mueller answered that the FBI wanted to know if there were other planes with bombs, who the bomb maker was and who directed the attack. So why Mirandize Abdulmutallab? After the Miranda moment, Abdulmutallab stopped talking.
Mueller added, "We also want to utilize his statements to effectively prosecute him." To which GOP Sen. James Risch of Idaho, a former prosecutor, marveled, "You had 200 witnesses who saw what he did." The FBI, Risch argued, should have tried to "wring everything you can out of this guy" and pass it on to intelligence officials. If they had gotten Abdulmutallab to spill the beans, the national security machine might have acted -- by sending drones, repositioning satellites for surveillance -- to prevent the next copycat passenger. There would be no need to introduce what interrogators learned into a courtroom to win a conviction, given the number of witnesses and physical evidence against the defendant.
For his part, Blair had told the committee that officials who questioned Abdulmutallab got "good intelligence. We're getting more." The administration has let it be known that after weeks of silence, Abdulmutallab has begun to talk again.
Unfortunately, the would-be bomber has gotten chatty with weeks-old information. He's talking, but the horse has left the barn.
Blair testified that it is "certain" al-Qaida will attempt another attack on the United States in coming months. In that light, Holder's decision seems both reckless and clueless.
Blair also gave his latest iteration on what was thought to be a newly formed High Value Detainee Interrogation Group, or HIG. At congressional hearings last month, Blair testified that the FBI should not have questioned Abdulmutallab, as "we did not invoke the HIG in this case. We should have. Frankly, we were thinking more of overseas people and, duh, you know, we didn't put it (in action) here."
Later that day, Blair's office disclosed that the HIG was not yet operational. From duh to oops. At the Senate hearing, Blair announced that the HIG is "moving along," and "we are using the components that we expect will coalesce into HIG."
By all means, coalesce quickly. Because it is "certain" another attack will be attempted, it would be nice if the interrogators are less preoccupied in nailing an already easy prosecution and more interested in thwarting terrorist attacks.
In trying to mollify Snowe, Mueller suggested that she think of this interrogation as "a continuum. Don't consider it a snapshot."
Thank you, Yoda.
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See Other Commentary by Debra J. Saunders
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