One of the findings of the 9/11 commission report was that the criminal justice approach to terrorism was a failure. Yet here we are again. After the Christmas Day terror attack attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab many of us asked, "Why isn't this man being held as an enemy combatant?" Incredibly, he was arrested, interviewed, Mirandized, and then he shut up.
Dennis Blair issued a statement after his testimony yesterday in which he insisted that the FBI obtained "important intelligence" in their questioning of Abdulmutallab. Really? I bet.
Stephen F. Hayes points out some absolutely incredible revelations from the testimony yesterday.
It appears as if Attorney General Eric Holder made the decision to treat this case in criminal court on his own. That's not really shocking. What's shocking is that he didn't seem to consult anyone else.
Our four top counterterrorism officials were not consulted: Janet Napolitano, Michael Leitner (chairman of the National Counterterrorism Center), Dennis Blair, and FBI Director Robert Muellar. It's incredible to me that Holder would make such a decision without even making the pretense of talking to these people.
Astonishing as that information is, it is only the tip of the iceberg. When the executive order was issued to close Gitmo, it also established a "high-value interrogation unit" (HIG) which was to make these decisions - that is, the HIG was to decide if a person is to be tried in criminal court or by some other means.
But the unit isn't functional yet. One year after the order to close Gitmo, the unit isn't up and running. What amateurs would make a decision to close Guantanamo without a plan or place to move those detained there, and no plan to process any that might need to be detained in the future? That unit should have been fully functional as soon as the decision was announced.
In the absence of such a unit, Holder makes the decision himself. This is the same attorney, mind you, who worked previously at a firm that represented several Gitmo detainees pro bono.
Blair's testimony yesterday included this mind-numbing statement (emphasis mine):
"Frankly, we were thinking more of overseas people and, duh!, we didn't put it then. That's what we will do now. And so we need to make those decisions more carefully. I was not consulted and the decision was made on the scene. It seemed logical to the people there but it should have been taken using this HIG format at a higher level."
Got that? Nobody anticipated having to deal with a terrorist in the United States, just ones overseas. Are you kidding me?!
Muellar believes that the decision made at the time was perfectly proper (emphasis mine):
"The decision to arrest [Abdulmutallab] and put him in criminal courts, the decision was made by the agents on the ground, the ones that took him from the plane and then followed up on the arrest in the hospital," Mueller told the committee. He also said: "In this particular case, in fast-moving events, decisions were made—appropriately, I believe, very appropriately—given the situation."
Given the situation? "The situation" is that this guy was on an airplane with nearly 300 people on board and tried to blow it up. How much more evidence do you need that he's a terrorist, or an enemy combatant? Did anybody really have to pause and think too hard that he might be associated with al-Qaeda? That this might be connected with the overall War on Terror? Oh wait - I forget. That doesn't exist anymore. Or, as Blair would say, "Duh!"
Mueller also testified that the FBI agents "interviewed" Adbudlmutallab. Shall we parse the difference between "interview" and "interrogate"?
If you go back to the etymology of the two words, interview comes from the French entrevue or the reflexive s'entrevoir, which means to see each other, or visit briefly. Interrogate, on the other hand, comes from the Latin interrogatus, which means to question, or examine.
To interrogate someone is a bit less friendly, in our context.
Nobody thought it necessary to interrogate Abdulmutallab, but we did interview him. Probably got him a cup of coffee, and sandwich, maybe. Definitely a lawyer.
It's clear that this administration learned nothing from the 9/11 commission or from 9/11 itself. This administration seems to be under the impression that the War on Terror is really over and that just because Obama was elected the terrorists don't have any interest in killing us anymore. Certainly they won't come to the United States; if anybody really thought they would then they would have been darned sure the HIG was in place for situations just like this one.
Instead, we have our heads in the sand.