In a letter to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell earlier this week, Attorney General Eric Holder said he alone made the decision to charge alleged Christmas Day would-be airplane bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in federal civilian court instead of trying him as a terrorist before a military tribunal. Holder said he did so “with the knowledge of, and with no objection from, all other relevant departments of the government.”
That statement flatly contradicts the sworn statement of Adm. Dennis Blair, director of national intelligence, who told a Senate committee last week that he “was not consulted” in the matter. Blair has since claimed his sworn statement was “misconstrued,” but that seems unlikely with such a simple declarative statement. Either Blair was or was not consulted.
Putting Holder and Blair under oath before the same panel simultaneously would perhaps produce some interesting rhetorical parsing.
The more important issue, however, is the attorney general’s dissimulation on an issue of critical importance to the United States government’s ability to protect the American people and ultimately win the war on terrorism. In his letter, Holder argued that “the decision to address Mr. Abdulmutallab’s actions through our criminal justice system has not, and will not, compromise our ability to obtain information needed to detect and prevent future attacks.”
To grasp how deeply illogical that statement truly is, we need look no further than Holder circa 2002. There, thanks to The Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes, we find the future attorney general telling CNN’s Paula Zahn that government interrogators would have a tough time getting John Walker Lindh to talk.
“Well, I mean, it’s hard to interrogate him at this point now that he has a lawyer and now that he is here in the United States,” Holder said. “But to the extent that we can get information from him, I think we should.” Lindh was the first American citizen captured while fighting in Afghanistan on the side of the Taliban against U.S. forces.
The point of providing counsel to defendants in the American civil court system is to insure that they know all their rights, including the right to remain silent when questioned by law enforcement officials. It may frustrate prosecutors, but no damage is done to national security when defendants accused of robbing liquor stores or passing bad checks clam up. But multitudes of innocent people very well may die when our toughest, most knowledgeable interrogators are kept away from an accused terrorist.
Clearly, Holder 2002 was much wiser than Holder 2010, and more able to help keep Americans safe.