Right-wing media narrative on Christmas Day plot falling apart

Right-wing media narrative on Christmas Day plot falling apart

››› ››› ADAM SHAH

The right-wing media narrative that the Obama administration endangered security by giving Miranda rights to alleged attempted Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is falling apart. Contrary to claims based on unnamed sources in the right-wing media, Obama administration officials agree that Abdulmutallab gave valuable intelligence during his first interrogation and that Abdulmutallab has begun divulging intelligence again.

Right-wing media run with false claim that Abdulmutallab was not interrogated

Media claim Abdulmutallab was not interrogated. On Fox News' Your World, pundit K.T. McFarland claimed that administration officials "just let this guy get -- not be interrogated." Similarly, The Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes falsely claimed that Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair "admitted that Abdulmutallab was not interrogated for intelligence purposes." In addition, Sean Hannity falsely claimed that Abdulmutallab was not interrogated, saying: "[W]e have an underwear bomber that has information, that wanted to kill 300 Americans and we don't interrogate the guy and we let him lawyer-up."

In fact, Abdulmutallab was interrogated and intelligence, law enforcement officials agree he gave valuable information. Blair stated on January 20, "The FBI interrogated Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab when they took him into custody. They received important intelligence at that time, drawing on the FBI's expertise in interrogation that will be available in the HIG [High-value detainee Interrogation Group] once it is fully operational." Additionally, FBI director Robert Mueller testified that interrogators interviewed Abdulmutallab "to gain ... intelligence about whether there's another bomb, whether other coconspirators, where'd he get the bomb, all of that information without the benefit of -- or within the Miranda warnings."

Abdulmutallab has cooperated with interrogators since being Mirandized

Media claim DNI Blair testified that intelligence was lost because of the handling of Abdulmutallab. In her National Tea Party Convention speech, Sarah Palin claimed that Abdulmutallab "was questioned for only 50 minutes," adding: "We have a choice in how to do this. The choice was only question him for 50 minutes and then read his Miranda rights. ... [T]here are questions we would have liked this foreign terrorist to answer before he lawyered up and invoked our U.S. constitutional right to remain silent." The Wall Street Journal previously claimed in an editorial that that Blair "told the Senate that by immediately handing Abdulmutallab to the civilian justice system, the government all but slammed the door on its ability to interrogate him thoroughly."

In fact, Abdulmutallab has cooperated with interrogators since being Mirandized. Responding to Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Sen. Dianne Feinstein in a February 2 hearing (accessed via the Nexis database), Mueller agreed that "Abdulmutallab has provided valuable information" and that "the interrogation continues despite the fact he has been Mirandized." Blair testified in the same hearing: "There are decisions that have to be made in which you balance the requirement for intelligence with the requirement for a prosecution and the sorts of pressure that you bring onto the people that you arrest in either form. It's got to be a decision made at the time. And I think the balance struck in the Mutallab was a very -- was an understandable balance. We got good intelligence, we're getting more."

Moreover, Reuters reported in a February 2 article that "a law enforcement official" said "Abdulmutallab is talking and has been talking since last week providing useful, actionable and current intelligence that we've been actively following up on." The New York Times also reported:

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian man accused of trying to blow up a jetliner bound for Detroit on Dec. 25, started talking to investigators after two of his family members arrived in the United States and helped earn his cooperation, a senior administration official said Tuesday evening.

Mr. Abdulmutallab, 23, began speaking to F.B.I. agents last week in Detroit and has not stopped, two government officials said. The officials declined to disclose what information was obtained from him, but said it was aiding in the investigation of the attempted terrorist attack.

"With the family, the F.B.I. approached the suspect," the senior administration official said, speaking to reporters at the White House on the condition of anonymity because of the pending legal case. "He has been cooperating for days."

Claim that administration hurt national security by disclosing Abdulmutallab's cooperation refuted

Fox forwarded claim that Obama administration hurt national security by disclosing Abdulmutallab's cooperation. Fox News has repeatedly forwarded Sen. Kit Bond's dubious claim that it was wrong to disclose that Abdulmutallab was cooperating with the investigation because, according to Bond, FBI officials, including Mueller, instructed members of the Senate Intelligence Committee that "keeping the fact of his cooperation quiet was vital to preventing future attacks against the United States." Indeed, Fox News' website FoxNation.com went so far as to ask: "Did Obama admin. help terrorists by saying undie bomber was talking?"

In fact, Intelligence Committee Chair Feinstein stated that administration didn't tell committee to keep quiet about Abdulmutallab's cooperation. A February 4 FoxNews.com article about Bond's criticism noted that "Feinstein added later that at no time in the briefing did Mueller say that Abdulmutallab's cooperation was not to be revealed" and that "Bond, however, did not attend Monday's briefing, but spoke separately with Mueller." Additionally, on February 4, Fox News national correspondent Catherine Herridge reported that "[t]wo law enforcement officials dispute Bond's characterization of the phone call with the FBI director. They claim Mueller was warning the senator that new information about Abdulmutallab could become public. The senator says others weren't on that call, he was, and he knows what happened."

Claim that Bush administration did not treat terrorism suspects in similar manner debunked

Perino claimed shoe bomber was handled differently because there was "no system in place" to hold Abdulmutallab in military custody. On Fox & Friends, former White House press secretary Dana Perino attempted to rebut the Obama administration's comparison of their use of civilian trials for alleged terrorists with the Bush administration's similar treatment of shoe bomber Richard Reid by falsely suggesting that "there wasn't a system in place" for former President Bush to order Reid to be held by the military.

Hundreds of detainees were placed in military custody before shoe bomber pleaded guilty and was sentenced. Reid was arrested in December 2001, pleaded guilty on October 4, 2002, and was sentenced on January 30, 2003. Soon after the war in Afghanistan began in October 2001, the United States began holding detainees in military custody. For instance, in the 2006 case of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court majority opinion stated that in November 2001, the plaintiff in that case, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, "was captured by militia forces and turned over to the U.S. military." In the 2004 case of Rasul v. Bush, Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the majority, stated: "Petitioners in these cases are 2 Australian citizens and 12 Kuwaiti citizens who were captured abroad during hostilities between the United States and the Taliban. Since early 2002, the U.S. military has held them -- along with, according to the Government's estimate, approximately 640 other non-Americans captured abroad -- at the Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay." Additionally, Jose Padilla was initially held in the civilian court system after his arrest on a material witness charge and was transferred to military custody on June 9, 2002. And Yaser Hamdi was held in military custody at Guantánamo Bay beginning in January 2002 and transferred to a military brig in South Carolina in April 2002.

Bush Attorney General Ashcroft praised handling of Reid as an example of "progress because of the combined and cooperative efforts of law enforcement and intelligence." From an August 25 speech by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft:

Around this nation, we can point to quiet, steady progress because of the combined and cooperative efforts of law enforcement and intelligence:


132 individuals have been convicted or pled guilty, including shoe-bomber Richard Reid, "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh, six members of the Buffalo cell, and two members of the Detroit cell.

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