Chairman and Ranking Republican of Senate Homeland Security Committee: Does Everyone In Obama Administration Know We’re At War?

By Matt Loffman

Jan 25, 2010 4:02pm

The chairman and ranking Republican of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee today urged the Obama administration to transfer the Christmas Day bomber into military custody, and harged that though President Obama “has said repeatedly that we are at war, it does not appear to us that the President's words are reflected in the actions of some in the Executive branch, including some at the Department of Justice, responsible for fighting that war.”

In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and the president’s top homeland security adviser, John Brennan, Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Susan Collins, R-Me., urged for the immediate transfer of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab into Pentagon hands to be “held as an unprivileged enemy belligerent (UEB) and questioned and charged accordingly.”

The two senators noted that 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” as well as the role of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

They took issue with the “decision to treat Abdulmutallab as a criminal rather than a UEB 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.”

Matthew Miller, director of the Office of Public Affairs, said that since September 11, 2001, “every terrorism suspect apprehended in the United States by either the Bush administration or the Obama administration has been initially arrested, held or charged under federal criminal law. Al Qaeda terrorists such as Richard Reid, Zacarias Moussaoui and others have all been prosecuted in federal court, and the arrest and charging of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was handled no differently.”

Miller said that those “who now argue that a different action should have been taken in this case were notably silent when dozens of terrorists were successfully prosecuted in federal court by the previous administration.”

Lieberman and Collins expressed surprise to learn in a hearing last week titled “Intelligence Reform: The Lessons and Implications of the Christmas Day Attack” that the Justice Department apparently didn’t discuss with Pentagon or intelligence leaders as to whether Abdulmutallab should be treated as a criminal, rather than a UEV, and read Miranda rights.  “The Administration can reverse this error, at least to some degree, by immediately transferring Abdulmutallab to the Department of Defense,” they wrote.

Miller said that the interrogation yielded intelligence, only after which was Abdulmuttallab read Miranda rights. “Trying Abdulmutallab in federal court does not prevent us from obtaining additional intelligence from him,” Miller said. “He has already provided intelligence, and we will continue to work to gather intelligence from him, as the Department has done repeatedly in past cases.” He said that Abdulmuttallab would not necessarily divulge additional intelligence were he held according to the laws of war or referred for prosecution in a military commission.

The Justice Department statement from Miller was issued last week, though he referred a reporter to it today saying it addresses nearly every point in Lieberman’s and Collins’ letter.

“It will always be a top priority in these cases to obtain intelligence that can be used in the fight against Al Qaeda around the world,” it concludes. “We will be pragmatic, not ideological, in that fight, and we will let results, not rhetoric, guide our actions.”

- jpt

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