Defending the Indefensible

After being roundly condemned for charging Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as a criminal defendant – a decision that granted the would-be Christmas bomber the right to remain silent after a brief 50-minute interrogation session – the Obama administration this week went on the offensive against its critics. Not only is the abrupt end to Abdulmutallab interrogation not the intelligence failure it appears to be, the administration insists, but it actually vindicates its view of terrorism as a criminal matter.

The administration’s new line is that Abdulmutallab has been cooperating with investigators since last week and has even provided intelligence in several ongoing terrorism investigations. This is, to be sure, welcome news. Yet the administration’s decision to read Abdulmutallab his Miranda rights, instead of treating him as an enemy combatant under the laws of war, remains deeply troubling. It also epitomizes the shortcomings of the administration’s view that the criminal justice approach is the most effective one against the country’s terrorist enemies.

If the administration is to be believed, Miranda rights and other criminal protections are no obstacle in terrorism investigations. In a letter to Republican Senator Mitch McConnell yesterday, Attorney General Eric Holder argued precisely this point, citing as an example Operation Crevice, in which British police busted up a Pakistani al-Qaeda cell. In the course of that investigation, Holder notes, “law enforcement agents gained valuable intelligence regarding al-Qaeda military commanders and suspects involved in bombing plots in the U.K. from a defendant who agreed to cooperate after being advised of, and waiving his Miranda rights.”

This invites the obvious question: What if the defendant had not waived his Miranda rights? Indeed, that is what initially happened in Abdulmutallab’s case. Informed of his right to remain silent, he promptly chose to exercise it. The reason he has since waived that right seems entirely fortuitous. Following his failed bombing attempt, several FBI agents traveled to Nigeria to plead with Abdulmutallab’s family for assistance. Ultimately, the family traveled to the U.S., where they persuaded Abdulmutallab to cooperate.

Yet this is not a counterterrorism strategy; it’s sheer luck. It’s lucky, for instance, that the Abdulmutallab family – including his father, who first warned U.S. authorities about his son’s extremist extracurriculars – disapproved of his jihadist ambitions. More typical in the Muslim world are families who, like many Palestinians, praise their children’s choice to become “martyrs” or who, like the parents of lead 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta, deny the overwhelming evidence that their children are terrorists. Had the Abdulmutallabs been more representative of the Islamic world, their son might never have cooperated.

That would have left the administration with few options. With harsh interrogation techniques already banned under the Bush administration – a position supported by the current White House – Abdulmutallab would have been free to withhold intelligence from interrogators.

If Abdulmutallab’s cooperation is not a convincing argument in favor of the administration’s criminal justice strategy, what is? Attorney General Holder has advanced two, both of them diversionary.

The first is that several terrorists have been successfully prosecuted under the criminal justice system. Among Holder’s examples is “shoe bomber” Richard Reid, who is serving a life sentence despite being read his Miranda rights within minutes of being removed from the transatlantic flight he had hoped to blow up.

Reid isn’t a particularly strong example, however. One reason the Bush administration pressed criminal charges against Reid instead of charging him as enemy combatant is that the military commissions system for dealing with enemy combatants did not yet exist. That is no longer the case. Moreover, Reid’s conviction was obtained in no small part because he chose to plead guilty.

Still, it’s hard to hard to dispute that the criminal justice system has in the past secured the convictions of terrorists. But at what cost? What intelligence information was lost in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks because of the decision to Mirandize Reid? For that matter, what could intelligence services have learned had they been able to interrogate Abdulmutallab at length sooner? As the administration admits, he has been silent for nearly a month. In light of reports by senior U.S. intelligence agents this week that al-Qaeda is expected to attack the United States in the next three to six months, that silence – and the resulting gap in knowledge on al-Qaeda activity – could prove perilous.

Holder’s other argument is that no one in the intelligence community objected to the government’s decision to pursue criminal charges against Abdulmutallab. But it’s a stretch to see such silence as an endorsement. What else could one expect under an administration that has repeatedly floated the possibility of criminal investigations against CIA officers for carrying out interrogations of terrorist detainees? If the intelligence agencies have not challenged the Justice Department on Abdulmutallab, it may be because they do not want to be its next target.

That Abdulmutallab is now cooperating with intelligence agencies is encouraging. But it’s important to note that this is happening despite – not because of – the administration’s wrongheaded decision to charge him as a common criminal. It’s all well and good for the administration to claim that it will use all tools, from the criminal justice system to intelligence gathering, to keep the country safe. But the beginning of wisdom on national security is the recognition that treating terrorists as common criminals can diminish the very intelligence this critical job demands.

  • eerie Steve

    *sigh* What to do with child murderers? You know I do have an ounce of respect for someone willing to actually have the motivation to carry something like this out. But that does not exactly mean we will not torture him to death.

    I would start off with all my "martyrdom" tortures begin, giving him a platform and an apparent way out, but then I would give him the death penalty regardless if people got killed. I would speed things up so he got the green mile in a year or two but we don't kill him, we give him anasthesia.

    Then we sell the "martyr" back to the House of Saud who fools the kid like we fool children in Disney World.

    "Yes Umar! That's really Saladin. Go share your secrets with him"

    Then I would fool him and have him wage war against the same people in Afghanistan, and then I would sell him off to the Pakistani Air Force to be chopped up in a slurry and mixed with kerosene to fuel the turbines which we will drop bombs on our enemies with.

    • BS1977

      eerie, please go back on your medication….or else check yourself into the nearest hospital. you are NUTS. good luck, sir.

    • davarino

      Put your tin foil hat back on damn it. They are starting to give you really wierd ideas.

  • johncarens

    This situation is infuriating on so many levels:

    This Nigerian piece of human debris was SUPPOSED TO DIE during his quest to blow up the airliner over Detroit, and hopefully (-in his view) take out a couple hundred or so on the ground. But, because he DIDN'T die, he was an extrmely valuable intelligence asset; indeed he was unique in almost the history of modern terrorism: A suicide bomber targeted at the USA that didn't self-detonate by pure luck; and thus, his tracks from the airplane, to the gimy underbelly of Yemanese and Nigerian Islamism, weren't covered over very well (or at al)l because he was supposed to die.

    Those first few hours after his capture were a unique goldmine of intelligence that, had sober heads prevailed, and he had been whisked away to a dark room with a single lightbulb dangling from a cord, would have yeilded EVERYTHING we needed to know, from his monetary sponsors, to this bomb-building compatriots, his facilitators and so forth. Imaine what we would have learned about September 11th if we had gotten Atta just before he boarded his plane? That's what this situation is akin to.

    Eric Holder is just a bootlicker for President Obama. Ignoring for a moment that he was a partner in the law firm with the most cases representing Al Queda held in Guantanamo, he is only doing the President's bidding. And The President's bidding is all based on the truly bizarre hallucination that terrorists will stop being terrorists if we treat them like common criminals. But that's what we did to that freak the "Blind Sheik", we dragged him and his compatriots into criminal court, read them their rights, gave them free attornies, and yet, somehow, 9/11 still happened.

    Who would have guessed, on September 12, 2001, that we would elect a President who ran on the platform of giving attornies to terrorists, or that he would throw away the $250-million dollar facility at Guantanamo Bay to drag these human pieces of crap onto the continental United States to languish in a (just recently purchased to this reason for ANOTHER $200-million) prison in Illinois? This course is madness, and it is all based on foggy, weird, far-left radicalism– and we normal, Patriotic Americans try to combat this madness with reason and logic. The only thing that might pull the President off his psychotic delusion is when we get hit again, and the terrorist actually manages to blow up his underwear, and take an airplane, or a city, with him. And even then, he probably won't be dissuaded.

  • JosephWiess

    For some strange reason, Democrats see everything as a crime, and nothing as an attack by terrorism.

    If the explosive hadn't fizzled, there would have been an explosion on December 24th, and this little dick would have been in his version of paradise.

    It's time to stop treating terrorists like they robbed the corner store and treat them like the militant spies they are. Waterboard the little jerks and make them talk. Heck, it's only water.

  • nick f.

    This young man is a plant!!! it was known by all u.s. intel agencies from bottom to top that he was to board that plane. there are many American witnesses stating what they watched and heard. another well dressed man walk him up, demand for him to be placed on the plane with NO passport and he was successfully. youtube the witnesses testimonies and see for yourself. a direct result of this act has been the overt purchase of 100s of 'body scanners', a product produced by the Chertoff Group, a firm headed by Michael Chertoff, former homeland security advisor, who is not even a true American, he holds a dual passport with another country.

  • USMCSniper

    Those holding such conspiratorial views, the poll found, were disproportionately young, members of racial and ethnic minorities, people with only a high school education, and Democrats.

    when large numbers of people in this country can swallow 9/11 conspiracy theory and global warming without puking, all hope is lost,"

  • BS1977

    Please do not show the horrible faces of KSM or the underwear bomber any more. Everytime the faces are shown in print or on TV, I recoil in revulsion. ENough already!! The imbecile underwear bomber belongs in Gitmo with KSM….and both of them should stay there until they are executed and buried. I have no idea why the AG would interfere with a military tribunal….these are foreign agents of an enemy of our nation…armed combatantsattempting to kill Americans….and the AG wants them tried in civilian court like shoplifters. Send them to Guantanamo, try them, eliminate them–end of story.

  • nick f.

    I actually hold 2 masters degrees from both Columbia and Florida State Universities. Hold position of Dean of Students at a fine arts high school on the east coast and have performed and lectured at nearly every major university on the east coast. there seems to be no point to your post. You have not acknowledged any of the information presented and I'm sure you have not investigated the sources. Remember, the false flag of Gulf of Tonkin was thought to be as you say, 'conspiracy' yet McNamara admitted to the fallout and the history books now need to be rewritten. Who are you to stifle new ideas and newly presented information as it develops? As a Marine you should very vocal against the banskters that perpetually put you in harms way via false flag events. 9/11 yes, false flag, gulf of tonkin yes, false flag, and in the coming months as the media states this week, a horrid false flag expected in the next 3 to 6 months. Remember these words when the next one instates a total ban on all firearms and are knocking on your door requesting even you, to hand them over. What will you do? will you keep your oath or submit in the name of 'security?

    • johncarens

      …The Tonkin Gulf resolution was passed, we might note, with super-majorities of Democrats in the Congress and a Democrat in the White House. But, Nick, you are definitely Exhibit "A" of proposition that it is possible to be highly, highly educated, and remain really, really, stupid.

  • Heloise

    Nick f. replying to the USMCsniper: Do you know anything about jihad and the doctrine of Islam? From your comment, I would guess not. 9/11 was a classic, textbook case of jihad, war against the kafir (that's you and me, no matter where we graduated from college, or didn't). The mujahadin do not care about 'banksters' or evil corporations or arrogant east coast elitists. They only care about their Islamic theocracy advancing and growing according to their god's command. And terrorism is one of the tactics commanded in their koran. Did you notice that the mujahadin tried to bring the Towers down in 1993 and were unsuccessful? One thing about those boys, they never give up. And it's paid off for 1,400 years.

    Of course, it's much more soothing to think that these events are a conspiracy of crafty political corporate fatcats rather than have to think that fanatic Muslim suicide bombers are lurking in the corners of our country, waiting to strike terror in our hearts, kill us and raise their 'false flags' in the shade of their swords.

  • Larry D. Crumbley

    It now has been proven with these IDIOTIC things that the Att. General has done that they have no clue as to what to do with real life terrorist. There mindset is like it was when Bill Clinton was in the White-House, and that is evry dangerous for this nation. We as a nation can expect some more to coe in the next few months ahead. Ladies and Gentlemen we are in a deep pool of despair. No matter what you thought of Bush at least he treated them like terrorist, and not citizens of this nation that have due rights, and everything to do with the law to protect them against incriminating themselves. We are in deep trouble.

    Thank you,
    Larry D. Crumbley

  • nick f.

    Its called blowback. the longer we mingle in the middle east, the more we will fuel the angst among militant Muslim youth. Very similar to the angst that young America is feeling towards their 'mis'leaders. It has been stated by all leaders of alqueda/taliban that their gripe towards our nation is our presence, our offensive might, our abusive monetary policies, our cia abducting children, drug trafficking in and out of various nations, defenseless drone attacks, overthrowing of democratically elected leaders and a myriad of other things that would inspire anyone to be aggressive towards what they felt would be the source of those acts. Thus increasing our vulnerability for being attacked. The war on terror is a hoax. It is impossible to be at war with a philosophy, as is the war on drugs. 90% of all drug importation is done by our own agencies. That is a scary yet true fact that we watched go down in the 80s with Ollie north and one of the most powerful drug dealers in the world, Bill Clinton (as gov. of arkansas and worked with Mena)

    • Rifleman

      Lol, you left something out. They also say our very existence offends allah, and they will wage war on us until we convert, submit, or die and all the world is dar al islam. They'll never lack for an excuse to kill us, even if you grovel and comply with every grievance you listed, and the ones you didn't. Not only that, but your appeasement only encourages them, swells their ranks, and perpetuates their use of terrorism.

      What's a defenseless drone attack? Funny you would mention them, because I know the terrorists feel defenseless against the drones, and they're rightly scared of them. They look up in fear often. I know someone who sits in a nice climate controlled theater, with a whole wall of big screens of situation maps and live feeds from our drones. They'll follow suspects around for weeks, and sooner or later, they'll pull weapons out of a cache or meet an armed party, and a green clear to engage light will come on in the corner of the screen, followed shortly by a red one, showing a weapon is on the way. Seconds later there's a flash, perhaps a secondary or two, and there's a few less terrorists in the world. It's very demoralizing for them, as is the fact that one or two hundred of them have to die for every American they kill.

      They can either find a way to express their displeasure with us, their governments for inviting us there, or our “mingling” in dar al islam in general (are they not here?), other than killing us, or they can suffer the consequences. That's reasonable. We're Americans, we've learned not to run and try to hide from people like them. With all those letters it's hard to believe you missed the lesson of the Barbary Pirates. I guess a formal education ain't what it used to be.

      • davarino

        We are supposed to wait till a city is nuked, then he'll get pissed, and demand we serve somebody with a sopena

  • bardefa

    After execution, wrap him in bacon and send back to Nigeria…..

    Our top people have NO SLIGHTEST idea how to fight terrorism, thus "he is just a criminal!".
    Learn from others.
    What did others do to stop those acts?
    Reread what Russians did to caught hijackers, and profile as Israelis do

  • xman

    Fortunately, not every timebomb goes off, but we have seen 15,000 terrorist atrocities carried out by Muslim terrrorists since 9/11 and heaven knows how many in the preceeding 1,400 years, and even them that won't be an exhaustive list. There will be many more that we don't know about.

    Nothing shames Muslims more than their defeats at the hands of so-called inferior infidels that prevented them from overrunning infidel lands – at least in the West. Events like the Battle of Vienna, the Reconquista etc are treated as if they happened last week, and not more than 300 or 500 years ago. You could hardly blame Israel or the US for that, but then again, nick.f is an irrational person with typically crackpot 'troofer' views to boot.

  • xman

    nick f. is classic proof that having degrees (or two as he says in his case, although I don't believe him) doesn't amount to common sense. Churchill didn't have a degree, in fact he was bottom of the class at school, but unlike the so-called intellectuals of his day, he pegged Hitler. He told us what Hitler would do, but his so-called 'superiors' ridiculed him as an Edwardian warmonger until 1939, when war came, and suddenly they wanted him to be Prime Minister to clean up the previous five years of appeasement.

    Nick. f is just like those so-called intellectuals – no common sense whatsoever, and far less savvy than the average tomcat. He knows diddly squat about Islam. Everything is the fault of the US or the Jew. In his PC-addled mind, 9/11 was down to US policies, support for Israel etc (I wonder what he blames Bali, Luxor and Beslan on – please tell us doofus), and nothing to do with the built-in hatred of the infidel that is hard-wired into Muslim minds, turning every Muslim into a potential ticking timebomb – mention Israel and the US and you out a Muslim – it never fails.

  • idviking

    As we continue the rant about the obvious flaws in the Islamic religion it occurs to me that perhaps the "failures" of government really aren't failures at all. No one could be this stupid on purpose. The first month of Obama's presidency an executive order was signed giving 250 million dollars to Palestine. About two weeks later Clinton promised another 900 million. Considering that Hamas controls about 90% of the government there, where do you think the money goes? Isn't it possible to presume that there is some measure of complicity in the actions of the politicians and lawyers that are supposed to keep our country secure? The last half of 2009 there were attempted and realized acts of terrorism almost every month.
    After Ft. Hood, shouldn't all targets have been sufficiently hardened to at least minimize potential future catastrophe?
    After every attack, the media and politicians rush to defend "the religion of peace", to the exclusion of the effects these attacks have on the victims and their families. It was a travesty when the official at Ft. Hood lamented the effect that incident could have on diversity instead of condemning the act and the evil passages within the Koran that facilitated it.
    America's greatest strength is not diversity. America's strength lies in the unity of its people to a common ideal, liberty. The laws of America are a deterrent to the oppression inherent in the Koran. That is why they keep trying to kill us and that is what they are trying to break.
    Our politicians should be protecting Americans. Not look for ways to avoid offending Muslims in the face of the obvious so they can get money or a vote during the next election cycle.
    Are we ignoring the murders, honor killings, suppression of women's rights and the outright bigotry of Islam against all other faiths because we don't want to appear intolerant? WE should be intolerant of all those things because they are morally reprehensible. It doesn't matter if it is part of Islam or in the Koran, it is wrong.
    And if there is anyone out there that thinks Sharia law and the Constitution can peacefully co-exist I have a bridge for sale.

  • jsok1948

    Jacob: I am at a loss to understand your point. Because Abdulmutallab is cooperating with the authorities — thanks to his family members being assured that he can get a fair trial in the U.S. legal system — our intelligence agents are learning who recruited him and how, who trained him, who sent him, etc. "Actionable intelligence," in other words. Let's say instead we had tortured him (use whatever euphemism you wish) or tried him before a military drumhead tribunal. What more would we have learned? This isn't a TV show with only 50 minutes to go before the nuclear bomb explodes in New York City. I think critics of this administration are so hasty to make political hay out of every step the administration takes, you can't see the forest for the trees. Many more terrorists have been convicted by civilian courts than by military tribunals. Can we try to remember that we all (liberals and conservatives alike) are on the same side (the American side) and that we are not divided into traitors (all liberals) and patriots (all conservatives)? Once upon a time politics was left at the water's edge. I'm old enough to be nostalgic.

    • Rifleman

      A military "drumhead tribunal" is unjust? US troops are tried under them every day, shouldn't they be getting a the additional rights we're giving enemy combatants, including the right to a jury trial? Giving illegal combatants waging a terror war on us civilian rights is stupid beyond belief. I can understand why someone would assume it's treason.

      It's nice he's cooperating a week into Febuary, but he was singing like a canary when they caught him on Christmas, right up until they let him know they were dumb enough to give him civilian rights. You really can't see why timeliness might be important to intel? Do you really have no idea of, or concern for, the amount of intel we give away when we are dumb enough to try people waging war on us in our civilian courts? It's hard for me to believe.

    • davarino

      Ya are you old enough to remember when the liberals were not america haters. Do you remember when liberals were actually sane and not far leftists?

  • bubba4

    You guys made up this "story" from the beginning because of the "terrorism not criminal" narrative…the reading of miranda rights cutting short interrogation was just too juicy not to beat to death, even if it was untrue.

    Laskin here has the interesting task in reporting that the narrative is not true while simultaneously bolstering the narrative.

    "What intelligence information was lost in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks because of the decision to Mirandize Reid?"

    Laskin…I got an idea, why don't you go find out like a real reporter. I know it will cut short your insinuations and will ruin the narrative, but you will be that much less slimy.

  • aspacia


    We are not doomed; we are just waking up

  • BS1977

    Cindy…..go away….far away….this is a forum, not free advertising space…..