The two top senators on the Senate Homeland Security Committee have written to Attorney General Eric Holder and White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan to urge the Obama administration to treat Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as an "unprivileged enemy belligerent" and transfer him to the Department of Defense.
Senators Collins and Lieberman write:
The President has affirmed repeatedly that we are at war with al Qaeda and, as you well know, Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian national, was trained and sent by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to ruthlessly and mercilessly kill hundreds of innocent civilians, including the Americans on Flight 253 and many more on the ground. Osama bin Laden also claimed yesterday that al Qaeda was responsible for the attack.
Nevertheless, once Abdulmutallab was in custody, federal law enforcement officials on teh ground in Detroit read the terrorist his Miranda rights. According to press reports, by the time the Miranda rights were read and Abdulmutallab went silent, he had been questioned for just under an hour, during which time he had been speaking openly about the attack and AQAP's role. The decision to treat Abdulmutallab as a criminal rather than a [unprivileged enemy belligerent] UEB almost certainly prevented the military and the intelligence community from obtaining information that would have been critical to learning more about how our enemy operates and to preventing future attacks against our homeland and Americans and our allies throughout the world.
The authors go on to note that "the Department of Justice 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" and that "the so-called High Value Detainee Interrogation Group, which the Department of Justice announced last August -- more than four months ago -- is not yet operational."
Collins and Lieberman argue that the DOJ's actions undermine President Obama's claim that we are at war against al Qaeda and request that the administration "reverse this error" by transferring Abdulmutallab to the Defense Department where he would be tried before a military commission.
In a separate announcement, Senator Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, has also called for Abdulmutallab to have his rights revoked. In a statement, Sessions said:
It is now clear beyond doubt that the administration squandered an invaluable opportunity to gather intelligence from a captured terrorist fresh from al Qaeda’s operation in Yemen, a new center of their activities. But this weekend, the President's spokesman actually argued that the right call was made and that fifty minutes of interrogation were sufficient.
“Instead of trying to excuse the inexcusable, the administration should take responsibility for the dire consequences of its decision to swiftly grant civilian rights to this foreign terrorist.
“Civilian interrogation means that a suspect must be told he does not have to answer any questions and that he will be provided a lawyer. Captured combatants do not enjoy these same privileges.
“I strongly urge the President to right this wrong and revoke Abdulmutallab’s civilian status. This will allow authorities to resume the terminated interrogation and to gather new intelligence about the operations of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. This intelligence could save lives.
It's a sharp rebuke of the administration's approach to terrorism. Lieberman has long been more hawkish that the party he caucuses with, but how many Democrats are going to be willing to defend the administration's mishandling of Abdulmutallab? My guess: Not many.