White House: People who criticize us are helping al Qaeda 

In a brief op-ed in USA Today, White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan charges that critics who question the Obama administration's decision to grant Miranda rights to accused Detroit bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab are "serv[ing] the goals of al Qaeda."

"Too many in Washington are now misrepresenting the facts to score political points," Brennan writes. "Politically motivated criticism and unfounded fear-mongering only serve the goals of al-Qaeda."

Now, however, those critics are questioning whether Brennan is trying to score a few political points of his own. First, Brennan supports the administration's position, which most critics find absurd, that the initial 50-minute interrogation of Abdulmutallab -- all the Justice Department would allow before he was read his Miranda rights -- was somehow adequate. "Immediately after the failed Christmas Day attack," Brennan writes, "Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was thoroughly interrogated and provided important information."

Second, Brennan writes that, "The most important breakthrough occurred after Abdulmutallab was read his rights…" What Brennan does not say is that that breakthrough reportedly occurred several weeks after Abdulmutallab was read his rights. In the intervening period, apparently, investigators got little out of the suspect.

Third, Brennan sets up a fairly obvious straw man when he writes that, "Cries to try terrorists only in military courts lack foundation." The argument over the treatment of Abdulmutallab is an argument specifically over the treatment of an al Qaeda soldier who was caught trying to blow up an airliner -- not whether terrorists should be tried only in military courts. As far as I know, the critics who believe the administration made a serious mistake with Abdulmutallab also believe that there are other cases -- involving financial or logistical support of terrorism, for example -- that are well suited to the civilian court system.

Finally, Brennan repeats President Obama's argument that the Bush administration's treatment of Richard Reid justifies the Obama administration's handling of Abdulmutallab. "Would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid was read his Miranda rights five minutes after being taken off a plane he tried to blow up," Brennan writes. "The same people who criticize the president today were silent back then." Critics find the argument weak because when Reid was apprehended, in December 2001, the institutions to handle suspects like him did not exist. Should Bush have put Reid before a military commission? A high-value detainee interrogation group? Send him to Guantanamo? None of that existed in the early months of the war on terror.

On the other hand, at least Brennan does not blame Republicans for the decision to Mirandize Abdulmutallab. In my new story today, GOP winning war over Miranda rights for terrorists, I discuss Brennan's talk-show accusation that top Republican officials knew about, and did not object to, the decision to grant Miranda rights to Abdulmutallab. GOP sources on Capitol Hill told me they suspected that Brennan "test-drove that one himself" -- that is, he put out the argument without getting pre-approval from the White House. "I think if they really thought they had a gotcha, they would have rolled it out weeks ago," I was told. "But there really wasn't anything to roll out." In the story, I wrote that "GOP lawmakers don't expect to hear that charge again."

And sure enough, in the new op-ed, Brennan writes that, "Senior counterterrorism officials from the White House, the intelligence community and the military were all actively discussing this case before he was Mirandized and supported the decision to charge him in criminal court," Brennan writes. Not a word about Congress.

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