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It’s Not Too Late to Fix a Grievous Error

Sens. Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins have written a letter today to Attorney General Eric Holder and counterterrorism adviser John Brennan urging them to designate Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Christmas Day bomber, as an “unprivileged enemy belligerent” so he can be “questioned and charged accordingly.” The senators note that Obama himself has declared that “we are at war with al-Qaeda.” However, Abdulmutallab was read his Miranda rights and, as others have reported, provided only 50 minutes of conversation to FBI agents who lacked the needed detail to elicit all the helpful material he might possess. The senators note that last week, Dennis Blair and other officials conceded in congressional testimony that the Justice Department “did not consult with leadership in the intelligence community and the Department of Defense for their input on whether or not to treat Abdulmutallab as a criminal and read him his Miranda rights.” Senators also learned that the “High Value Detainee Interrogation Group, which the Department of Justice announced last August — more than four months ago — is not yet operational.”

The senators conclude that the president’s repeated admonitions that we are at war do not appear to “be reflected in the actions of some in the Executive branch.” But they note that the president can “reverse this error” and transfer the Christmas Day bomber to the Department of Defense.

This is a superb suggestion, which many conservative commentators have urged. There really isn’t reason not to do so — unless of course the criminalization of our national intelligence system and the self-imposed limits on our anti-terrorism efforts are in keeping with what the president wants. In that case, the actions of the executive branch have been in tune with Obama’s wishes, and we are all in a great deal of trouble. Let’s hope not.

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