On January 7, President Obama finally gave us the “surprising” and indeed “shocking” details of the Christmas Day attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab — the now infamous underpants bomber — to destroy an airliner and kill all aboard plus an unknown number of others on the ground.
Things have not stood still since President Obama’s speech on January 7. Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair is reported to have said on January 20:
The Christmas Day airline bombing suspect should have been treated as a terror suspect when the plane landed. That would have meant questioning him initially by special interrogators rather than standard law enforcement officers.
He was not consulted on whether Abdulmutallab should be questioned by the recently created High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, or HIG.
“That unit was created exactly for this purpose,” Blair said. “We did not invoke the HIG in this case. We should have.”
Under questioning by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Blair and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said they were not consulted before the decision was made to not use the high-value detainee interrogation group. Also, Michael Leiter, chief of the National Counter Terrorism Center, said he was not consulted. “That is very troubling,” Collins said.
Blair’s testimony infuriated the Obama administration:
One senior official described the comments by Blair … as misinformed on multiple levels and all the more damaging because they immediately fueled Republican criticism that the administration mishandled the Christmas Day incident in its treatment of the accused al-Qaeda operative as a criminal suspect rather than an enemy combatant.
“People are annoyed, angry, and frustrated about this,” said the senior official, who asked not to be identified, speaking about Blair’s testimony. The official added that the White House has ordered Blair to “correct” his remarks. “He’s taking a mulligan on this,” the official said.
Shortly thereafter, Blair’s office issued a clarification noting that his words had been misconstrued. The infuriated folks at the White House did not seem to think they had been misconstrued — they read them much the same as I did.
From January 26:
The leaders of a commission that investigated failures related to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks … said U.S. intelligence agencies should have been consulted before … Abdulmutallab was granted constitutional protections under U.S. law, known as Miranda rights, and initially stopped talking to investigators.
Even the Washington Post has changed its view and now argues that the underpants bomber should not have been treated as a criminal suspect.
The use of high-value interrogation techniques seems, on its face, to be inconsistent with a subsequent civilian criminal trial, as Mr. Blair seemed to understand. Why didn’t President Obama mention these things, and why is he so infuriated that Mr. Blair did?
Scott Brown’s successful campaign to “steal” the late Senator Kennedy’s seat focused to some extent on the silliness of trying terrorists in civilian courts in the United States. Scott Johnson writes at Powerline:
Scott Brown reiterated one of the winning themes of his campaign in a memorable fashion: “And let me say this, with respect to those who wish to harm us, I believe that our Constitution and laws exist to protect this nation — they do not grant rights and privileges to enemies in wartime. In dealing with terrorists, our tax dollars should pay for weapons to stop them, not lawyers to defend them.”
The national security policy of the Obama administration in its treatment of enemy combatants as American citizens is indefensible. The case of Umar Abdulmutallab is a powerful example. The Obama administration has in fact put forth no principled defense of its endowment of enemy combatants such as Abdulmutallab with the rights of American citizens. The irrationality of the Obama administration on this point is obvious and devastating.
Blair’s “misconstrued” statement, followed by the hissy fit, suggests that Brown’s remarks struck home. This seems to be another reason why his victory “shocked and arguably humiliated the White House.”
Although perhaps “shocking,” most of the details of the Christmas Day event as declaimed by President Obama on January 7 are not at all surprising. President Obama and his colleagues may have been surprised, but they should not have been, at least not to the point of neglecting to consult with Blair and others on what to do with Abdulmutallab or where to do it. Probably the only truly “surprising” thing in his entire performance was President Obama’s belated observation:
[We face a challenge] protecting our country against a foe that is bent on our destruction. And while passions and politics can often obscure the hard work before us, let’s be clear about what this moment demands: We are at war. We are at war against al-Qaeda, a far-reaching network of violence and hatred that attacked us on 9/11, that killed nearly 3,000 innocent people, and that is plotting to strike us again. And we will do whatever it takes to defeat them. (emphasis added)