Last week, the Washington Post reported that the Obama administration is considering abandoning its plans to hold a civilian trial for Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-proclaimed 9/11 mastermind, in favor of a military commission. The news has attracted faint praise from right-wing lawmakers, who, despite the justice department's historical success prosecuting and convicting terrorists, believe that criminal courts should have no role in the war on terror.
In today's New York Daily News, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) writes that President Obama's approach to combating terrorism "has been flawed from the start." According to Sessions, the administration's desire to uphold the legal rights of detainees is "needlessly depriving authorities of a crucial means to gather intelligence and prevent attacks." To back up his claim, Sessions cites the failed airplane bombing on Christmas Day:
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Christmas Day bomber, is the textbook example of a terrorist who should have been handed over to the military. As both a war criminal and a foreign Al Qaeda agent, he easily met the legal criteria for military detention. We'll never know how much timely intelligence was lost because Abdulmutallab was quickly Mirandized and stopped talking. As a prosecutor who has tried hundreds of cases, I know firsthand that suspects often stop talking after they are read their rights. Their lawyers will advise them to do the same.
This isn't the first time Sessions has expressed displeasure with the handling of Abdulmutallab's interrogation. In fact, during a January congressional hearing on the case, Sessions seemed to suggest to FBI Director Robert Mueller that the would-be bomber should have been tortured. However, the senator's argument, which is the only evidence he gives for his overall thesis, isn't supported by the facts.
Specifically, Sessions' claim that that Abdulmutallab stopped talking after he was read his rights was debunked more than a month ago. On February 1, the LA Times reported that "Abdulmutallab was not read his rights until he made it clear that he was not going to say anything else." A day later, intelligence officials revealed that Abdulmutallab was talking again after the FBI contacted his family, who helped convince him to cooperate with the investigation.
In a February 3 letter to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Attorney General Eric Holder further explained that Abdulmutallab's initial interrogation was consistent with longstanding U.S. policy:
[T]he practice of the U.S. government, followed by prior and current Administrations without a single exception, has been to arrest and detain under federal criminal law all terrorist suspects who are apprehended inside the United States.
Holder also referenced Al Qaeda-affiliated shoe bomber Richard Reid, who was Mirandized "within 5 minutes of being removed" from the plane he attempted to blow up (and four times in 48 hours), and cited several other terror suspects who cooperated after being informed of their rights.
So, while Sessions' assertion that Abdulmutallab stopped talking after he was read his rights is an outright lie, the most important thing to remember is that there's still no evidence for the conservative argument that following the law makes us less safe.
Crossposted at MediaMattersAction.org