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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Christmas Day Bomber - Reading Terrorist Their Rights

Politics should never get in the way of national security. But too many in Washington are now misrepresenting the facts to score political points, instead of coming together to keep us safe.

Immediately after the failed Christmas Day attack, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was thoroughly interrogated and provided important information. Senior counterterrorism officials from the White House, the intelligence community and the military were all actively discussing this case before he was Mirandized and supported the decision to charge him in criminal court.

The most important breakthrough occurred after Abdulmutallab was read his rights, a long-standing FBI policy that was reaffirmed under Michael Mukasey, President Bush's attorney general. The critics who want the FBI to ignore this long-established practice also ignore the lessons we have learned in waging this war: Terrorists such as Jose Padilla and Saleh al-Mari did not cooperate when transferred to military custody, which can harden one's determination to resist cooperation.

It's naive to think that transferring Abdulmutallab to military custody would have caused an outpouring of information. There is little difference between military and civilian custody, other than an interrogator with a uniform. The suspect gets access to a lawyer, and interrogation rules are nearly identical.

Would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid was read his Miranda rights five minutes after being taken off a plane he tried to blow up. The same people who criticize the president today were silent back then.

Cries to try terrorists only in military courts lack foundation. There have been three convictions of terrorists in the military tribunal system since 9/11, and hundreds in the criminal justice system — including high-profile terrorists such as Reid and 9/11 plotter Zacarius Moussaoui.

This administration's efforts have disrupted dozens of terrorist plots against the homeland and been responsible for killing and capturing hundreds of hard-core terrorists, including senior leaders in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and beyond — far more than in 2008. We need no lectures about the fact that this nation is at war.

Politically motivated criticism and unfounded fear-mongering only serve the goals of al-Qaeda. Terrorists are not 100-feet tall. Nor do they deserve the abject fear they seek to instill. They will, however, be dismantled and destroyed, by our military, our intelligence services and our law enforcement community. And the notion that America's counterterrorism professionals and America's system of justice are unable to handle these murderous miscreants is absurd.

The Christmas Day bombing case has emerged as a key political issue at the start of a midterm election year shaping up as a difficult one for Obama and his party. Brennan did not name names in his eight-paragraph op-ed. Nor did he cite Republicans as the party chiefly to blame for politicizing the case.  But his nonpartisan credentials give his words weight at a time when Republicans are seeking to use the Abdulmutallab case as evidence that Obama and the Democrats are soft on national security. Brennan, a 25-year CIA veteran, has become the administration's most public face on the issue.

More recently, Republican lawmakers have criticized Obama for choosing to charge Abdulmutallab in a civilian court rather than keeping him in military custody. Administration officials told reporters last week that Abdulmutallab's family has been enlisted to encourage him to cooperate with interrogators, which he is said to be doing.  Republican lawmakers, though, have said treating Abdulmutallab as a civilian grants him too many legal rights and limits the access of FBI interrogators, even though senior intelligence officials supported the decision to charge him that way ahead of time.

The Republican propaganda is a distraction from the real issue: that the counterterrorism system is malfunctioning more than eight years after the Sept. 11 attacks. Like many of the nation’s other problems, Mr. Obama inherited this one. For eight years, Congress failed in its legal duty to oversee the intelligence community and the basic operational tasks of the Department of Homeland Security and correct the abusive system of detention at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and elsewhere that made our country more vulnerable, not less.

Congress should be helping the president fix those problems, not piling up sound bites for November and trying to bring that shameful detention system home.


02/15/10 update - Secret Joint Raid Captures Taliban's Top Commander - http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/16/world/asia/16intel.html?emc=na

Lawrence O'Donnell Rages On Bush Speechwriter Marc Thiessen: 'Your Administration Invited The First Attack... -

Andrea Mitchell interview Michael Isikoff

Morning Joe discusses rights of suspected terrorists with Chris Hayes

Andrea Mitchell interviews Denis McDonough about Christmas Day Bomber

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