Brennan: Our critics are helping al-Qaeda
posted at 9:30 am on February 9, 2010 by Ed Morrissey
Wait — before I write this post, I want to give a senior Obama administration official a word first:
With Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s point in mind, let’s turn to the conclusion of the op-ed written by John Brennan, Barack Obama’s Deputy National Security Adviser, on the merits of public discourse and dissent regarding the most vital issue of our time — keeping the nation safe from attack by terrorists, emphasis mine:
Politically motivated criticism and unfounded fear-mongering only serve the goals of al-Qaeda. Terrorists are not 100-feet tall. Nor do they deserve the abject fear they seek to instill. They will, however, be dismantled and destroyed, by our military, our intelligence services and our law enforcement community. And the notion that America’s counterterrorism professionals and America’s system of justice are unable to handle these murderous miscreants is absurd.
Gee, isn’t that remarkably similar to the type of thing the Left accused the Bush administration of saying? In fact, that’s exactly what Clinton’s remarks were intended to address. The motivation of dissent matters less than its relevance and truth — and the truth is that our nation’s counterterrorist professionals were not consulted in the handling of Abdulmutallab until after the Department of Justice forced a delay of weeks in getting information from the EunuchBomber. DNI Dennis Blair and FBI Director Robert Mueller didn’t get a call until afterwards, and the High-Value Interrogation Groups (HIGs) hadn’t yet been commissioned almost a year after Obama shut down their predecessor interrogation groups.
So who conducted the interviews? Local FBI agents with no particular knowledge of al-Qaeda’s network in Yemen. They conducted a 50-minute interview without any of the context needed for real intel extraction. And that’s not a criticism of the FBI agents; it’s a criticism of the Obama administration for not having the HIGs before last week after decommissioning the previous groups in February 2009, and of the decision by Eric Holder to read Abdulmutallab his rights before letting the CIA have a crack at him.
Now Brennan wants to screech about patriotism and how being held accountable for a series of screw-ups somehow makes the people demanding that accountability the handmaidens of Osama bin Laden. If Brennan can’t handle accountability, maybe he should resign his position and let someone else with more testicular fortitude — and a better understanding of representative democracy — take his place.
Update: Byron York deconstructs Brennan’s straw men:
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 about 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.
Update II: My good friend Scott Johnson at Power Line has an excellent take on Brennan’s desperate flailing.