They Write Op-Eds, Too, Part II

John Brennan in USA Today:

It’s naive to think that transferring Abdulmutallab to military custody would have caused an outpouring of information. There is little difference between military and civilian custody, other than an interrogator with a uniform. The suspect gets access to a lawyer, and interrogation rules are nearly identical.

Would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid was read his Miranda rights five minutes after being taken off a plane he tried to blow up. The same people who criticize the president today were silent back then.

Cries to try terrorists only in military courts lack foundation. There have been three convictions of terrorists in the military tribunal system since 9/11, and hundreds in the criminal justice system — including high-profile terrorists such as Reid and 9/11 plotter Zacarius Moussaoui.

This administration’s efforts have disrupted dozens of terrorist plots against the homeland and been responsible for killing and capturing hundreds of hard-core terrorists, including senior leaders in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and beyond — far more than in 2008. We need no lectures about the fact that this nation is at war.

Politically motivated criticism and unfounded fear-mongering only serve the goals of al-Qaeda. Terrorists are not 100-feet tall. Nor do they deserve the abject fear they seek to instill. They will, however, be dismantled and destroyed, by our military, our intelligence services and our law enforcement community. And the notion that America’s counterterrorism professionals and America’s system of justice are unable to handle these murderous miscreants is absurd.

Byron York at the Washington Examiner:

Now, however, those critics are questioning whether Brennan is trying to score a few political points of his own. First, Brennan supports the administration’s position, which most critics find absurd, that the initial 50-minute interrogation of Abdulmutallab — all the Justice Department would allow before he was read his Miranda rights — was somehow adequate. “Immediately after the failed Christmas Day attack,” Brennan writes, “Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was thoroughly interrogated and provided important information.”

Second, Brennan writes that, “The most important breakthrough occurred after Abdulmutallab was read his rights…” What Brennan does not say is that that breakthrough reportedly occurred several weeks after Abdulmutallab was read his rights. In the intervening period, apparently, investigators got little out of the suspect.

Third, Brennan sets up a fairly obvious straw man when he writes that, “Cries to try terrorists only in military courts lack foundation.” The argument over the treatment of Abdulmutallab is an argument specifically over the treatment of an al Qaeda soldier who was caught trying to blow up an airliner — not whether terrorists should be tried only in military courts. As far as I know, the critics who believe the administration made a serious mistake with Abdulmutallab also believe that there are other cases — involving financial or logistical support of terrorism, for example — that are well suited to the civilian court system.

Finally, Brennan repeats President Obama’s argument that the Bush administration’s treatment of Richard Reid justifies the Obama administration’s handling of Abdulmutallab. “Would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid was read his Miranda rights five minutes after being taken off a plane he tried to blow up,” Brennan writes. “The same people who criticize the president today were silent back then.” Critics find the argument weak because when Reid was apprehended, in December 2001, the institutions to handle suspects like him did not exist. Should Bush have put Reid before a military commission? A high-value detainee interrogation group? Send him to Guantanamo? None of that existed in the early months of the war on terror.

In fewer than 400 words, Brennan embarrasses himself with half-truths, selective omissions, and name-calling hysteria. But more importantly, he identifies one of the major problems facing the Obama White House: They lack a credible leader on homeland security that the American people fully trust. This problem clearly began when DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano came out days after Christmas saying “the system worked.”

Napolitano was quickly sent to a cabinet timeout, where she joined HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, whose leadership has been noticeably absent from the health-care debate. The administration scrambled to find a public face for their damage control, and John Brennan drew the short straw. Since then, Brennan has lashed out at former Vice President Dick Cheney and other critics with a level of petulance unbecoming an adviser in his role.

In his blog, Brennan says Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was “thoroughly interrogated” immediately after his failed bombing attempt. However, even Brennan has stated that the interrogation lasted 50 minutes. Under no plausible scenario is 50 minutes of interrogation “thorough.” Brennan goes on to say the “most important breakthrough occurred after Abdulmutallab was read his rights.” He fails to mention how many weeks that took, nor why we even know about this. Based on what can be gathered from administration officials, Abdulmutallab began cooperating long after intelligence was still actionable. White House officials leaked this conversation, putting Abdulmutallab’s profoundly cooperative family at risk and signaling to al-Qaeda that anything operational this foot soldier knows should be revised.

Brennan also delivers the overused line that, because shoe bomber Richard Reid was given Miranda rights, so should Abdulmutallab. Reid’s arrest took place in December 2001. John Brennan should remember that December 2001 wasn’t exactly our most organized hour as a nation. The White House Office of Homeland Security was just being stood up, anthrax attacks were being investigated, the sites of the 9/11 attacks were still smoldering, and Americans were rightly worried about the next attack. We didn’t have the luxury of second-guessing our arrest methods. We do now. Military tribunals were not yet congressionally authorized for this purpose.

Scott Johnson at Powerline:

Brennan rests his straw men in part on then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey’s September 2008 Guidelines for Domestic FBI Operations. Mukasey, however, begs to differ. As one might infer from the title of the guidelines, Mukasey explains that the decision to provide Miranda warnings to the Christmas Day bomber and classify him as a criminal defendant do not follow from them.

Mukasey told Bill McGurn: “First, the guidelines Mr. Brennan refers to involve intelligence gathering. They do not deal with whether someone in custody is to be treated as a criminal defendant or as an intelligence asset. Second, as for gathering intelligence, it begs the whole question about whether he [Abdulmutallab] should have been designated a criminal suspect. And there is nothing–zero, zilch, nada–in those guidelines that makes that choice. It is a decision that ought to be made at the highest level, and the heads of our security agencies have testified that it was made without consulting them.”

One more timely column addresses Brennan’s remarkable performance as a spin merchant on behalf of the Obama administration. In “Miranda wrongs,” Ralph Peters locates the source of Brennan’s lassitude in the same place I do.

Marc Thiessen at The Heritage Foundation:

And why on earth are they telling us that he is talking, much less what he is talking about?  By sharing this information with the press, they are also sharing it with al Qaeda.  The surprisingly candid explanation came from White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton, who told reporters: “Ideally this information would not necessarily come out … but we made the determination that it was a good idea to make sure that people knew … that our methods here were working.”  In other words, “ideally” we would not share with al Qaeda that Abdulmutallab was talking, but since we are under fire from critics for screwing this up we thought it was a “good idea” to share intelligence with the enemy.

And Brennan accuses his critics of being “politically motivated”?

And it goes on.

The fact is, the bungling of Abdulmutallab’s questioning will one day he taught in interrogation school as a case study in how not to do it.  Telling this high-value terrorist he had the “right to remain silent” — a right he exercised for five weeks — cost us irreplaceable counterterrorism opportunities.  And telling us when he began talking again gave the enemy a heads-up to cover his tracks further.

It is hard not to agree with USA Today’s assessment:  It’s “amateur hour” at the White House.  Unfortunately, that hour comes in a time of war.

Ed Morrissey:

Gee, isn’t that remarkably similar to the type of thing the Left accused the Bush administration of saying?  In fact, that’s exactly what Clinton’s remarks were intended to address.  The motivation of dissent matters less than its relevance and truth — and the truth is that our nation’s counterterrorist professionals were not consulted in the handling of Abdulmutallab until after the Department of Justice forced a delay of weeks in getting information from the EunuchBomber.  DNI Dennis Blair and FBI Director Robert Mueller didn’t get a call until afterwards, and the High-Value Interrogation Groups (HIGs) hadn’t yet been commissioned almost a year after Obama shut down their predecessor interrogation groups.

So who conducted the interviews?  Local FBI agents with no particular knowledge of al-Qaeda’s network in Yemen.  They conducted a 50-minute interview without any of the context needed for real intel extraction.  And that’s not a criticism of the FBI agents; it’s a criticism of the Obama administration for not having the HIGs before last week after decommissioning the previous groups in February 2009, and of the decision by Eric Holder to read Abdulmutallab his rights before letting the CIA have a crack at him.

Now Brennan wants to screech about patriotism and how being held accountable for a series of screw-ups somehow makes the people demanding that accountability the handmaidens of Osama bin Laden.  If Brennan can’t handle accountability, maybe he should resign his position and let someone else with more testicular fortitude — and a better understanding of representative democracy — take his place.

Jillian Bandes at Townhall

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Filed under GWOT, Homeland Security, Political Figures

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