Holder Pushes Back Against False GOP Terror Fear-Mongering
February 4, 2010
(ChattahBox)—-The Republicans are intent on scoring cheap political points against the Obama administration’s handling of the failed Christmas-day bombing attempt of Nigerian Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab. GOP Critics led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have flooded the airwaves in recent days, charging that the FBI mishandled the interrogation of the underwear bomber, by reading him his Miranda rights and providing him with an attorney. Republicans want to violate our long-standing rule of law and are demanding that terror suspects be detained at Guantanamo and be subjected to military interrogation techniques (torture, waterboarding), before they are given a trial before a military tribunal. But Republican fear-mongers are neglecting to mention that hundreds of terror suspects have been successfully tried on American soil in civilian courts, without resorting to the extreme and illegal tactics suggested by GOP Jack Bauer wannabes. And this week, after all of the GOP’s dire predictions were proved wrong, when AbdulMutallab began talking to the FBI, providing the U.S. government with “actionable intelligence,” Attorney General Eric Holder fought back against the Republican false talking points.
According to a report by CNN, Holder sent out letters to Sen. Mitch McConnell and 10 other top Senate Republicans, detailing the legal basis for his decision to treat the Christmas-day bomber as a criminal suspect in federal court. Holder also pointed out the hypocrisy of Republican critics, when hundreds of terror suspects were tried in civilian courts during the Bush administration. And strangely, the GOP did not have any complaints at that time:
“The decision to charge Mr. AbdulMutallab in federal court, and the methods used to interrogate him, are fully consistent with the long-established and publicly known policies and practices of the Department of Justice, the FBI, and the United States government as a whole, as implemented for many years by administrations of both parties,” said Holder in his letter.
“Those policies and practices, which were not criticized when employed by previous administrations, have been and remain extremely effective in protecting national security,” the letter said. “They are among the many powerful weapons this country can and should use to win the war against al Qaeda.”
Holder aslo noted that he personally made the decision to charge AbdulMutallab in federal court, after consulting with other security agencies:
“I made the decision to charge Mr. AbdulMutallab with federal crimes and to seek his detention in connection with those charges, with the knowledge of, and with no objection from all other relevant departments of the government,” Holder said.
Holder then went on to reject the legal basis for declaring the Christmas-day bomber a military combatant:
“Some have argued that had AbdulMutallab been declared an enemy combatant, the government could have held him indefinitely without providing him access to an attorney. But the government’s legal authority to do so is far from clear,” Holder wrote.”
Sen. McConnell rejects the premise that hundreds of terrorists were successfully tried in civilian court, during the Bush years. McConnell’s response: “[I]t was wrong to do so.” But McConnell and other Republicans, now publicly screeching, were silent during those trials. Apparently they just realized it was wrong when the Obama administration decided to try a terror suspect in civilian court.
Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama called Holder’s letter, “insufficient.” And Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, carried the fear-mongering torch for her party this past week, in an embarrassing display of ignorance of the rule of law, as she made numerous false assertions.
On Saturday, Collins delivered the official GOP weekly address, in which she attacked the Obama administration’s handling of the failed Christmas-day bomber. She falsely claimed that FBI officials only questioned the failed bomber for 50 minutes, before he was read his rights and “he stopped talking.” That’s false, as we now know that AbdulMutallab has been “cooperating for days.” Did Collins back down? No. She issued a statement to MSNBC, making a new false claim that the bomber-suspect was talking as part of a plea agreement. Wrong again Sen. Collins. There was no plea agreement made with AbdulMutallab.
Collins then complained that there “was no consultation with intelligence officials.” As indicated in Holder’s letter, this assertion is also wrong.
Republicans aren’t about to let a few facts get in the way of their terrorist fear-mongering.
(Update: WH Press Secretary Gibbs responds to Collins’ false allegations:
“First, all the senior leadership in government involved in intelligence knew that Abdulmutallab was being indicted more than a day before and they supported that decision. Those represented in the Situation Room who discussed how he would be indicted in an Article III include the following:
Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, National Security Agency head LT General Keith Alexander, Attorney General Eric Holder, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, FBI Director Bob Mueller, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, National Counter Terrorism Center Director Mike Leiter, National Security Advisor General Jim Jones, Central Intelligence Agency Director Leon Panetta, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
Second, the Bush administration attempted to deny Jose Padilla access to counsel when he was detained as an “enemy combatant,” but was overruled by federal judge Michael Mukasey. Mukasey went on to become the Attorney General in the Bush Administration. Mukasey declared that Padilla had a right to access to counsel, even when being held as an enemy combatant. Mukasey even rejected the Bush Administration’s arguments that granting Padilla access to counsel for the purposes of contesting the factual basis of his detention would “jeopardize the two core purposes of detaining enemy combatants—gathering intelligence about the enemy, and preventing the detainee from aiding in any further attacks against America.” If Abdulmutallab were detained as an enemy combatant, the same standard would have applied to him. If Abdulmutallab were prosecuted in military commissions, he would also be given access to an attorney.
Third, the FBI’s current policy vis-à-vis Miranda warnings for arrests inside the United States is articulated in its Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide (DIOG), which was finalized at the end of the prior Administration, and in the Legal Handbook for Special Agents, the relevant portions of which have been in effect for many years. This policy, which is consistent with the policy of all known U.S. law enforcement agencies, is to provide Miranda warnings prior to custodial interrogation. As the DIOG explains (page 63), “[w]ithin the United States, Miranda warnings are required to be given prior to custodial interviews . . . .” FBI policy also reminds agents that “standard booking questions and public safety questions” are not “interrogation” for purposes of Miranda. In both terrorism and non-terrorism cases, the FBI’s experience has been that many defendants will talk and cooperate with the FBI after being Mirandized.
Fourth, Abdulmutallab has not been offered anything. The Department of Justice take his cooperation “into consideration.”
Fifth, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is part of the intelligence community. Since 9/11, the FBI has made preventing terrorism its principal mission. The men and women of the FBI have disrupted plots, saved American lives, and acquired intelligence that has allowed us to take the fight to terrorists overseas. That includes the counter-terrorism professionals who were on the scene in Detroit, and those who continue to gather critical intelligence from Abdulmutallab while politicians in Washington second-guess their work.”