Treat a terrorist as a criminal instead of as an enemy combatant, and lose valuable time and intelligence-gathering opportunities:
Detroit bomber ‘singing like a canary’ before arrest
President Barack Obama is under fire over claims that the Christmas Day underwear bomber was “singing like a canary” until he was treated as an ordinary criminal and advised of his right to silence.
The lawyer for the 23-year-old Nigerian entered a formal not guilty plea on Friday to charges that he tried to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on December 25 – even though he reportedly admitted earlier that he was trained and supplied with the explosives sewn into his underwear by al-Qaeda in the Arab state.
“He was singing like a canary, then we charged him in civilian proceedings, he got a lawyer and shut up,” Slade Gorton, a member of the 9/11 Commission that investigated the Sept 2001 terror attacks on the US, told The Sunday Telegraph.
It’s all about the law enforcement issue:
“I find it incomprehensible that this administration is treating terrorism as a law enforcement issue. The president has finally said that we are at war with al-Qaeda. Well, if this is a war, then Abdulmutallab should be treated as a combatant not a criminal.”
Abdulmutallab could have been held and interrogated in military custody under existing US legislation before a decision was taken whether to charge him before a military tribunal or a civilian court, according to Michael Mukasey, the last Attorney General under President George W Bush.
Mr Mukasey argues that it was crucial to gain intelligence from him immediately as details about locations, names and other plots is subject to rapid change. For the same reason, he dismissed the argument by John Brennan, Mr Obama’s chief counter-terrorism adviser, that investigators will garner valuable data during any plea-bargaining talks.
“He certainly should know that the kind of facts that Abdulmutallab might be expected to know have a shelf life that is a lot shorter than the plea bargaining process,” he wrote in the Wall Street Journal last week.
In the age of terror, our enemies do not have large armies or flotillas of warships that can be observed by spies or tracked by satellites. Instead, the terrorists conspire in secret, hide among civilians, and attack us from within. Their plans to kill innocent men, women, and children are known only to a handful of cruel men.
This means there are essentially three ways to gain information about terrorist attacks:
The first, and hardest, is to penetrate the enemy. This can be done, but it is no easy task. Al Qaeda is a small, secretive network of Arab extremists that is extremely suspicious of outsiders. And we saw this week just how difficult it is to penetrate their ranks. The terrorist who blew up a CIA base in Afghanistan—killing seven operatives—turns out to have been a double agent, a trusted source who was really working for the enemy.
The second method is “signals intelligence”—using advanced technology to intercept and monitor the enemy’s electronic communications. Signals intelligence has been essential to the fight against terror, but it has inherent limitations. When intelligence officials monitor terrorist communications, they are passive listeners to the conversations of others. They cannot ask questions, probe for additional information, or sometimes even identify voices or email addresses in intercepted communications. Moreover, the terrorists know they are being monitored, so they are careful to speak codes that are difficult to break without inside information.
This leaves only one other human intelligence tool: interrogation. The interrogation of senior terrorist leaders has distinct advantages over other forms human intelligence. It allows our intelligence professionals to ask the terrorists direct questions. Because terrorists are held in secret and cut off from the outside world, CIA officials can expose sensitive intelligence to them during questioning without fear it will get back to terrorists at large. CIA officials can use information gained from one detainee to question other detainees—and then go back and confront the first detainee with what they learned. Captured terrorists can also help the CIA verify whether the sources we recruit inside al Qaeda are trustworthy, and providing reliable information. They can identify voices in phone calls and email addresses, and decipher enemy codes that would otherwise remain a mystery. No other tool provides our intelligence community with this kind of dynamic flexibility.
Go read the rest. As Marc points out,
The ability to detain and question senior terrorist operatives is not a luxury we can do without; it is essential to preventing new attacks on our country.
Right now the administration is closing the door on that option.
(Yes, Scott Johnson beat me to the better title for this post, I know why the caged bird isn’t singing. Oh well.)
* Commenter Omnibus Driver came to the rescue with the perfect title, The Silence of the Loins. Thank you!