On bombing suspect, tough questions for Eric Holder

by Byron York
Washington Examiner
January 22, 2010

It seems like a pretty simple question. Who made the decision to charge Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the accused terrorist arrested for trying to blow up a Northwest Airlines jet on Christmas Day, as an everyday criminal, as opposed to an enemy combatant?

After all, Abdulmutallab was trained by al Qaeda, equipped with an al Qaeda-made bomb, and dispatched by al Qaeda to bring down the airliner and its 278 passengers. Even though the Obama administration has mostly abandoned the term “war on terror,” the president himself has said clearly that the United States is at war with al Qaeda. So who decided to treat Abdulmutallab as a civilian, read him the Miranda warning, and provide him with a government-paid lawyer — giving him the right to remain silent and denying the United States potentially valuable intelligence that might have been gained by a military-style interrogation?

This week that simple question — Who? — became more complicated after several of the administration’s top anti-terrorism officials testified on Capitol Hill. The director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Michael Leiter, said he wasn’t consulted before the decision was made. The director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, said he wasn’t consulted, either. The secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, said she wasn’t consulted. And the head of the FBI, Robert Mueller, said he wasn’t consulted.

“The decision was made by the agents on the ground,” Mueller told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, referring to the officials who apprehended Abdulmutallab when the plane landed in Detroit. American agents questioned the accused terrorist briefly before he was taken to a hospital to be treated for burns suffered in the attempt to set off explosives hidden in his underwear. After that, Mueller testified, “in consultation with the Department of Justice and others in the administration,” the agents read him his rights.

And that was that. “Isn’t it a fact, that after Miranda was given … the individual stopped talking?” Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions asked Mueller.
“He did,” Mueller answered. But Mueller declined to say who made the decision to grant Abdulmutallab the right to remain silent.

The issue is enormously important because Abdulmutallab, newly trained by al Qaeda in the terrorist group’s latest hot spot, Yemen, likely knows things that would be very useful to American anti-terrorism investigators. He’s not some grizzled old terrorist who’s been sitting in Guantanamo Bay since 2003 and doesn’t have any new intelligence. He’s fresh material. Yet he is protected by U.S. criminal law from having to answer questions.

Why? Republicans on the Judiciary Committee increasingly believe there is only one person who can answer: Attorney General Eric Holder.

Read the rest at the Washington Examiner.

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