(by Eli Lake, WashingtonTimes.com) – The leaders of a commission that investigated failures related to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks told a Senate panel Tuesday the Obama administration mishandled the interrogation of the failed Christmas Day airline bomber.
Former Gov. Thomas H. Kean, New Jersey Republican, and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, Indiana Democrat, said U.S. intelligence agencies should have been consulted before the bombing suspect, Nigerian national Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was granted constitutional protections under U.S. law, known as Miranda rights, and initially stopped talking to investigators.
The criticism from two of Washington’s respected former government officials comes as a bipartisan panel on Tuesday gave the Obama administration a failing grade for its efforts to date to prepare for and respond to biological-weapon terrorist attacks.
Mr. Abdulmutallab, who is now in custody, was interrogated for 50 minutes after he was pulled off of a Northwest Airlines flight after he purportedly tried to detonate a homemade explosive device sewn into his underwear.
Asked for his reaction to the fact that the intelligence community was not consulted, Mr. Kean told the Senate Homeland Security Committee, “I was shocked, and I was upset.”
The former governor said that “it made no sense whatsoever to me that, here is a man who may have trained with other people who are trying to get into this country in one way or another, who may have worked with some of the top leadership in Yemen and al Qaeda generally – and we don’t know the details of that – who may know about other plots that are pending, and we haven’t found out about them.”
Mr. Hamilton was questioned about the issues and said he agreed with Mr. Kean.
“There did not seem to be a policy of the government as to how to handle these people,” Mr. Hamilton said. “And that has to be clarified.”
Last week, Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair testified before Congress that after FBI agents apprehended the would-be Christmas Day bomber, Mr. Abdulmutallab, the agents handling the case should have referred it to a special group authorized to interrogate so-called “high-value” detainees. Some five hours later, Mr. Blair issued a statement saying his critical testimony was misconstrued and stating that the interrogation unit was not “fully operational.”
The criticism from Mr. Kean and Mr. Hamilton added to other bipartisan concerns in Congress that the White House is shifting its focus from waging war on al Qaeda in favor of a law-enforcement-oriented approach to countering terrorism.
On Monday, [Sen. Susan Collins of Maine], the chairman and ranking Republican of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, and Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, wrote President Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, to complain about the handling of Mr. Abdulmutallab.
They stated in the letter that “the decision to treat Abdulmutallab as a criminal rather than (an unprivileged enemy belligerent) almost certainly prevented the military and the intelligence community from obtaining information that would have been critical to learning more about how our enemy operates and to preventing future attacks,” the two senators wrote.
That view is disputed by many in the administration. Mr. Brennan himself suggested earlier this month that Mr. Abdulmutallab may be cooperating through a plea bargain.
FBI Director Robert S. Mueller last week in testimony said he supported the decisions made by his agents on the ground and could argue it both ways as to whether or not reading a suspect his Miranda rights provides incentives or disincentives to cooperate.
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1. a) Who is Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab?
b) What is Abdulmutallab’s nationality?
2. a) Who are Kean and Hamilton?
b) Why are the two men faulting the Obama administration for the way it handled the interrogation of Abdulmutallab?
3. a) Define Miranda rights.
b) Should terrorists be granted constitutional rights including Miranda rights? Explain your answer.
4. a) Define bipartisan.
b) In addition to Mr. Kean and Mr. Hamilton’s criticism, what other bipartisan concerns are there in Congress about the Obama administration’s handling of terrorism?
5. Re-read the excerpts of the letter from Senate Homeland Security Committee members to President Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser John Brennan (described in para. 11-12). (Read more under “Background” below, and link to the full letter there also.) What do you think about their concerns?
6. When initially questioned, Abdulmutallab told investigators that he had trained with at least 20 other young men who are planning similar attacks on U.S. planes. How do you think his investigation should be handled?
“Nevertheless, once Abdulmutallab was in custody, federal law enforcement officials on the ground in Detroit read the terrorist his Miranda rights. According to press reports, by the time the Miranda rights were read and Abdulmutallab went silent, he had been questioned for just under an hour, during which time he had been speaking openly about the attack and AQAP’s role. The decision to treat Abdulmutallab as a criminal rather than a UEB (unprivileged enemy belligerent) almost certainly prevented the military and the intelligence community from obtaining information that would have been critical to learning more about how our enemy operates and to preventing future attacks against our homeland and Americans and our allies throughout the world.”
(from Sen. Collins and Lieberman’s letter to Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser; read the entire letter at hsgac.senate.gov)