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What We Lost While Abdulmutallab Clammed Up

The fact that the Christmas Day bomber is cooperating now should not obscure the gross mishandling of the incident by the Obama administration.

10:35 AM, Feb 3, 2010 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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Four top U.S. counterterrorism officials -- including Mueller, Blair, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, and Director of the National Counterterrorism Center Michael Leiter -- were not consulted about whether to handle Abdulmutallab as an enemy combatant or a criminal. Leiter went on vacation the day after the attack.  John Brennan, the top White House counterterrorism adviser, told him he could go. Three days after the attack, despite copious evidence that Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was involved, President Obama declared the attempted bombing the work of "an isolated extremist." Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, said that she was surprised by AQAP's "determination" to attack the U.S. homeland and shocked to learn that they would send an individual, not a group, to carry out the deed. DNI Blair told Congress that an elite interrogation team should have questioned Abdulmutallab -- only to amend his remarks hours later to acknowledge that the new unit does not exist.

Let's hope Abdulmutallab is talking with the candor the White House suggests.  And the FBI deserves credit for using Abdulmutallab's family to gain his cooperation.  But serious problems remain.

The Obama administration's law-enforcement first strategy has thoroughly confused those whose job it is to keep us safe. Intelligence officials -- both at home and abroad -- have told members of Congress that they do not have clarity on even the most basic procedures to follow upon capturing and detaining terrorists.

It's not hard to see why.  At the end of the hearing yesterday, Senator Bond asked DNI Blair whether the U.S. government would have to read Miranda rights to Osama bin Laden if he were captured. He paused.  The scene was reminiscent of a hearing last fall, when Senator Lindsey Graham posed the same question to Attorney General Eric Holder.  Holder's response: "It depends."

After thinking for a moment, Blair chuckled and said he would "very much hope" that the intelligence community would have an opportunity to "squeeze all the information" out of bin Laden.  Bond, clearly taken aback by the non-answer, asked him again.

Blair's response: No comment.

So in the space of six months, the nation's top law enforcement official and the nation's top intelligence official have refused to rule out reading Miranda rights to terrorists.

Are we at war?

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