Commentary Magazine


Topic: senior intelligence adviser

Mukasey vs. Obama

Former attorney general Michael Mukasey takes the Obama team to task for its lackadaisical handling of the Christmas Day bombing. He surveys the Obami’s embarrassingly uninformed statements, the cringe-inducing sight of a disengaged president, the contention by John Brennan that there was “no smoking gun” to pinpoint the terrorist, and the ill-conceived policy of releasing detainees to Yemen. But it is the treatment of Abdulmutallab as a criminal suspect that gets his full wrath:

Had Abdulmutallab been turned over immediately to interrogators intent on gathering intelligence, valuable facts could have been gathered and perhaps acted upon. Indeed, a White House spokesman has confirmed that Abdulmutallab did disclose some actionable intelligence before he fell silent on advice of counsel. Nor is it any comfort to be told, as we were, by the senior intelligence adviser referred to above—he of the “no smoking gun”—that we can learn facts from Abdulmutallab as part of a plea bargaining process in connection with his prosecution.

Whatever that official thinks he knows about the plea bargaining process, he certainly should know that the kind of facts that Abdulmutallab might be expected to know have a shelf life that is a lot shorter than the plea bargaining process, assuming such a process ever gets started.

All of this has been done by rote — because early in the administration the Obama team tossed to the side the Bush policies on the war against Islamic fascists and adopted a new model for treating terrorists not as enemy combatants but rather as criminals. Then along comes an actual plot with a real-life terrorist and no thought is given to whether the “not Bush” approach makes any sense. As Mukasey observes, “No consideration whatsoever appears to have been given to where Abdulmutallab fits in the foreign contingency operation (formerly known as the global war on terror) in which we are engaged.” There is a bizarre quality to the flurry of reviews and reports underway, as administration advisors scurry to figure out how to connect dots and not miss the next bomber. Might they start by getting the maximum information out of the terrorist that chatted for a bit to the FBI and then (with lawyer in hand) decided that discretion was the better course?

Congress and the public may want to know why we are not revisiting the criminal justice model. Well, Mukasey thinks that wouldn’t mesh with the Obami’s priorities:

What the gaffes, the almost comically strained avoidance of such direct terms as “war” and “Islamist terrorism,” and the failure to think of Abdulmutallab as a potential source of intelligence rather than simply as a criminal defendant seem to reflect is that some in the executive branch are focused more on not sounding like their predecessors than they are on finding and neutralizing people who believe it is their religious duty to kill us.

If Mukasey is right, and I think he is, don’t expect the administration to revisit its own flawed decision making. If a shift in the disposition of terrorists is going to happen (at least so long as Obama occupies the Oval Office) it will likely need to come at the behest of Congress, which can, of course, pass legislation, deny or grant funding, and assert its authority to control the jurisdiction of the federal courts. If Obama won’t do his job, it is time then for lawmakers to do theirs.

Former attorney general Michael Mukasey takes the Obama team to task for its lackadaisical handling of the Christmas Day bombing. He surveys the Obami’s embarrassingly uninformed statements, the cringe-inducing sight of a disengaged president, the contention by John Brennan that there was “no smoking gun” to pinpoint the terrorist, and the ill-conceived policy of releasing detainees to Yemen. But it is the treatment of Abdulmutallab as a criminal suspect that gets his full wrath:

Had Abdulmutallab been turned over immediately to interrogators intent on gathering intelligence, valuable facts could have been gathered and perhaps acted upon. Indeed, a White House spokesman has confirmed that Abdulmutallab did disclose some actionable intelligence before he fell silent on advice of counsel. Nor is it any comfort to be told, as we were, by the senior intelligence adviser referred to above—he of the “no smoking gun”—that we can learn facts from Abdulmutallab as part of a plea bargaining process in connection with his prosecution.

Whatever that official thinks he knows about the plea bargaining process, he certainly should know that the kind of facts that Abdulmutallab might be expected to know have a shelf life that is a lot shorter than the plea bargaining process, assuming such a process ever gets started.

All of this has been done by rote — because early in the administration the Obama team tossed to the side the Bush policies on the war against Islamic fascists and adopted a new model for treating terrorists not as enemy combatants but rather as criminals. Then along comes an actual plot with a real-life terrorist and no thought is given to whether the “not Bush” approach makes any sense. As Mukasey observes, “No consideration whatsoever appears to have been given to where Abdulmutallab fits in the foreign contingency operation (formerly known as the global war on terror) in which we are engaged.” There is a bizarre quality to the flurry of reviews and reports underway, as administration advisors scurry to figure out how to connect dots and not miss the next bomber. Might they start by getting the maximum information out of the terrorist that chatted for a bit to the FBI and then (with lawyer in hand) decided that discretion was the better course?

Congress and the public may want to know why we are not revisiting the criminal justice model. Well, Mukasey thinks that wouldn’t mesh with the Obami’s priorities:

What the gaffes, the almost comically strained avoidance of such direct terms as “war” and “Islamist terrorism,” and the failure to think of Abdulmutallab as a potential source of intelligence rather than simply as a criminal defendant seem to reflect is that some in the executive branch are focused more on not sounding like their predecessors than they are on finding and neutralizing people who believe it is their religious duty to kill us.

If Mukasey is right, and I think he is, don’t expect the administration to revisit its own flawed decision making. If a shift in the disposition of terrorists is going to happen (at least so long as Obama occupies the Oval Office) it will likely need to come at the behest of Congress, which can, of course, pass legislation, deny or grant funding, and assert its authority to control the jurisdiction of the federal courts. If Obama won’t do his job, it is time then for lawmakers to do theirs.

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