Attorney General Eric Holder has responded to criticism of the Obama administration’s handling of the Christmas bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, with an “all’s well that ends well” letter to Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell.
Holder’s missive vigorously defends what he says was his decision to treat Abdulmutallab as a criminal defendant, to impose peacetime law-enforcement protocols on his interrogation, and to charge him in civilian court. He argues that the use of the criminal-justice system has been vindicated because the terrorist is talking again (thanks to whatever undisclosed deal the Justice Department had to make with him). The letter contains various misleading assertions but is a fair statement of Holder’s philosophy — and it is good to have such a statement, given that the DOJ’s practice under his leadership too often has been to stonewall.
The fundamental problem with the attorney general’s line of argument is that it unfolds as though there were no war and no president. Abdulmutallab, Holder believes, is just like any other person arrested in the United States: When an arrest happens, government officials automatically employ “long-established and publicly known policies and practices.” It does not matter who sent the person or what he was arrested trying to do. Miranda warnings are given, lawyers are interposed, charges are filed, and trials are conducted. Even if the nation is at war, we don’t inquire into whether the arrested person is an operative dispatched here by hostile forces to commit mass murder. We don’t concern ourselves with whether he knows about other people plotting the same thing. All that matters to Holder is that we have our procedures, and they must be followed.