Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 9, 2010

BRENNAN MAKES IT PLAIN....John Brennan, President Obama's senior counterterrorism adviser, has, as Adam Serwer noted this morning, "become the point man for the administration's pushback against GOP criticism on national security. " That appears to be a good move -- Brennan does not suffer fools gladly.

The former CIA official was forceful and persuasive on the Sunday shows over the weekend, and has a brief-but-compelling op-ed in USA Today. It's not quite 400 words, but Brennan's piece identifies the main Republican complaints of late, and then explains how wrong they are.

For example, the GOP insists Abdulmutallab was only interrogated for 50 minutes, during which time he provided nothing of value. The administration, Republicans argue, should have coordinated with other agencies outside the Justice Department. Brennan explains:

Immediately after the failed Christmas Day attack, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was thoroughly interrogated and provided important information. 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.

The GOP is outraged that Abdulmutallab was read his rights, when he should have been labeled an enemy combatant and headed off to the military. Brennan explains:

The most important breakthrough occurred after Abdulmutallab was read his rights, which the FBI made standard policy under Michael Mukasey, President Bush's attorney general. The critics who want the FBI to ignore this long-established practice also ignore the lessons we have learned in waging this war: Terrorists such as Jose Padilla and Saleh al-Mari did not cooperate when transferred to military custody, which can harden one's determination to resist cooperation.

It's naive to think that transferring Abdulmutallab to military custody would have caused an outpouring of information. There is little difference between military and civilian custody, other than an interrogator with a uniform. The suspect gets access to a lawyer, and interrogation rules are nearly identical.

Would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid was read his Miranda rights five minutes after being taken off a plane he tried to blow up. The same people who criticize the president today were silent back then.

The GOP believes military courts are more effective for terrorism cases. Brennan explains:

Cries to try terrorists only in military courts lack foundation. There have been three convictions of terrorists in the military tribunal system since 9/11, and hundreds in the criminal justice system -- including high-profile terrorists such as Reid and 9/11 plotter Zacarius Moussaoui.

The GOP is convinced the Obama administration isn't being effective or aggressive enough on counter-terrorism. Brennan explains:

This administration's efforts have disrupted dozens of terrorist plots against the homeland and been responsible for killing and capturing hundreds of hard-core terrorists, including senior leaders in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and beyond -- far more than in 2008. We need no lectures about the fact that this nation is at war.

The GOP perceives terrorists as Super Villains with Super Powers. Brennan explains:

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.

Good stuff.

Steve Benen 2:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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Searching for a good synonym for 'terrorist'?

"Murderous miscreants" works for me.

Posted by: slanted tom on February 9, 2010 at 3:04 PM | PERMALINK

One wonders how many of these bed wetting whiny babies served in the military. And I mean a combat unit, where you get to wear that blue CIB, after getting shot at.

Or did they spend their formative years at Yale, branding pledges with red hot coat hangers, and blowing up frogs with firecrackers?


Posted by: DAY on February 9, 2010 at 3:06 PM | PERMALINK

@ slanted tom and while we're at it can we find a substitute for "Homeland" Just plain United States would work for me

Posted by: john R on February 9, 2010 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

Had Jack Bauer been allowed to interrogate Abdulmutallab for three minutes, the guy would have spilled the beans about his group's plans to detonate a ticking suitcase nuke at the Capitol Building an hour later and we could have averted that disaster. The fact that such a bomb did NOT explode should not deter us from having our best interrogators involved in them not exploding.

So thanks to Obama and his terrorist-coddling ways, we weren't able to prevent a terror attack from destroying Washington D.C.

Posted by: Doctor Biobrain on February 9, 2010 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK

No, these assholes believe he should have been tortured first, just to soften him up a bit, you know ?

Posted by: rbe1 on February 9, 2010 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

Obama is calling Mitch McConnell, Kit Bond and that wonderful moderate Susan Collins liars. I dare him. He isn't even an American. Heck he isn't even white. I dare him use facts to counter the bull pulled out of the asses of McConnell, Bond and that nice Susan Collins.

Posted by: Ron Byers on February 9, 2010 at 3:24 PM | PERMALINK

Well it's about damn time someone push back against the right wing liars.

Posted by: AlphaLiberal on February 9, 2010 at 3:27 PM | PERMALINK

Steve Benen and Mr. Brennan don't understand that "sending them off to the military" is GOP code for "torture him". The GOP has gone quite flaccid, they need to get their torture hard-on back.

Posted by: ckelly on February 9, 2010 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK

There is something that Brennan, liberals, Democrats et al forget in this particular argument with Republicans -- the merits DO NOT MATTER.

This is not about security. It is not about the relative effectiveness of interrogations. This is about tribal bigotry, plain and simple.

The idea that a dark-skinned terrorist who tried to blow up a plane full of Americans would be treated as a human being and -- EVEN WORSE! -- given access to AMERICAN rights is deeply offensive to the sorts of Americans who show up Sarah Palin rallies and cheer when she jokes about seceesion or intones how we need to be led by a jack-booted "commander in chief" not some civil liberty loving, rule of law adhering, procedural justice enforcing "constitutional law professor." If anyone wants to sample what fascism smells like, just take a big whiff.

Republicans intend to ride this horse as far as they can. The guy who ran Scott Brown's campaign said so in the New Yorker. Stoking outrage that the Christmas bomber would be given a lawyer and read his rights was the strongest issue he had. And I can tell you from the heated discussions I had with family members who should know better, this issue resonates. For those of us who care about these things, it shows how fragile is the support that really exists for rule of law over primitive and tribal authoritarianism when people are scared.

Posted by: Ted Frier on February 9, 2010 at 3:31 PM | PERMALINK

What kind of pinko communist bastard does not trust The American Legal system to dole out justice for ALL!!!

We gave Nazi officers a small cabin in the heartland, allowed them to tend flower gardens in their yards and even gave them passes to town. Should we treat these enemy combatants the same as the Republicans suggest?

Posted by: Fed up and Tired on February 9, 2010 at 5:22 PM | PERMALINK

Brennen is a fool. No mention of when this "most important info" was discovered. Undearwear bomber had good intel for maybe 36 hours before it was mostly useless, what they refer to as actionable intel. Secondly, the jab about Richard Reid is pointless, the Bush admin was wrong to do read him is rights then. Just because someone did something in the past doesn't mean it works todat. FDR put all the Japanese Americans in internment camps, does that make putting muslim Americans in camps the thing to do today? When the shoe bomber was arrested nothing was in place which was a mistake. Now the system is in place and they choose not to use it, a mistake. Actually the Obama's high value detainee interrogation team wasn't in place, why should it be, he has only had a year to instal it. These men need to be treated as POWs at best. Place them in military detention until AQ surrenders. Finally, to DAY: I was a Marine infantryman, there was not a single Obama supporter in my company. The infantry, you know the men who get CARs vote republican. Maybe in the Army which is bad, (Navy's worse, Air Force is barely on our side) they might act like spoiled little girls and vote dem but in the Marines, infantry is conservative. I don't respect the Army very much. You can't fight, we were in Al Anbar and we had to clear Husaybah and Ubaydi because the larger Army units in the area refused. So the Marines with less men did what you wouldn't. Army at the chow hall in Al Qaim told us we were crazy and all going to die if we went into those cities. Cleared them both in 2 weeks, 13 dead Marines couple hundred dead Hajis. Army = weak. Grow a pair and join the Marines.

Posted by: steve on February 9, 2010 at 6:55 PM | PERMALINK

In fewer than 400 words, Brennan embarrasses himself with half-truths, selective omissions, and name-calling hysteria. But more importantly, he identifies one of the major problems facing the Obama White House: They lack a credible leader on homeland security that the American people fully trust. This problem clearly began when DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano came out days after Christmas saying the system worked.

Napolitano was quickly sent to a cabinet timeout, where she joined HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, whose leadership has been noticeably absent from the health-care debate. The administration scrambled to find a public face for their damage control, and John Brennan drew the short straw. Since then, Brennan has lashed out at former Vice President Dick Cheney and other critics with a level of petulance unbecoming an adviser in his role.

In his blog, Brennan says Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was thoroughly interrogated immediately after his failed bombing attempt. However, even Brennan has stated that the interrogation lasted 50 minutes. Under no plausible scenario is 50 minutes of interrogation thorough.

Brennan goes on to say the most important breakthrough occurred after Abdulmutallab was read his rights. He fails to mention how many weeks that took, nor why we even know about this. Based on what can be gathered from administration officials, Abdulmutallab began cooperating long after intelligence was still actionable. White House officials leaked this conversation, putting Abdulmutallabs profoundly cooperative family at risk and signaling to al-Qaeda that anything operational this foot soldier knows should be revised.

Brennan also delivers the overused line that, because shoe bomber Richard Reid was given Miranda rights, so should Abdulmutallab. Reids arrest took place in December 2001. John Brennan should remember that December 2001 wasnt exactly our most organized hour as a nation. The White House Office of Homeland Security was just being stood up, anthrax attacks were being investigated, the sites of the 9/11 attacks were still smoldering, and Americans were rightly worried about the next attack. We didnt have the luxury of second-guessing our arrest methods. We do now. Military tribunals were not yet congressionally authorized for this purpose.

Brennan accuses the presidents opponents of fear-mongering and says, We need no lectures about the fact that this nation is at war. On the bright side, administration officials have regularly failed to call our efforts against terrorists a war, so at least this brazen acknowledgement is progress. But they do in fact deserve a lecture.

Constitutional rights are not automatically granted to anyone who attempts to enter our nation, let alone to someone whose motivation is not to enter the nation but to direct a suicide bomb at its citizens. When Abdulmutallab was arrested, senior counterterrorism officials from the White House, the intelligence community and the military were not in fact consulted before he was Mirandized unless Brennan is accusing Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair of lying to Congress. (Blair said he was not consulted.)

Posted by: bob on February 9, 2010 at 7:09 PM | PERMALINK

Q1: What is the sound of one hand clapping?

A1: Any official, Democratic or Republican, who rebuts a mendacious Republican talking point with facts, evidence, and reason to a room full of journalist.

Q2: If a Democrat gives a point by point rebuttal to Repulican lies in a room full of journalist, does she make a sound?

Posted by: Winkandanod on February 9, 2010 at 7:40 PM | PERMALINK

Rant by Steve @ 6:55 PM -

Let's see:
1. Ad hominem attack? Check.
2. Display of great knowledge than intellgence professionals? Check.
3. Disavowal of previous administration? Check.
4. Unrelated analogy? Check.
5. Attempt to gain credibility by citing previous military service? Check.
Of course your attacks on your fellow service members (Army, Navy, Air Force) do sound as you served. However, the following: "...because the larger Army units in the area refused." shows an incredible lack of military knowledge even for a (self-proclaimed) jarhead. Orders to attack an enemy aren't given on a "if you feel like it" basis.
A Marine would know that...

Posted by: Doug on February 9, 2010 at 8:00 PM | PERMALINK

bob @ 7:09 PM:

Could you please cite those facts that demonstrate Mr. Brennan's article consisted of "half-truths, selective omissions, and name-calling hysteria."?
If you read anything other that RedState you would know that Sec. Napolitano was exactly correct in her statement that "the system worked", as she was referring to the notification system used to inform designated persons/institutions, when criminals such as the "underwear bomber" try something, and then such people are to be handled once they are in custody.
"Under no plausible scenario is 50 minutes of interrogation 'thorough'." Your credentials as an interrogator, please? I'm not going to ask again! You're making me angry! You won't like it if I get angry...*
"Constitutional rights are not granted to anyone who attempts to enter our nation...". Fail! Reread (read?) the Constitution; including the amendments. There WILL be a quiz.

*to any moderator: snark alert

Posted by: Doug on February 9, 2010 at 8:17 PM | PERMALINK

"Constitutional rights are not automatically granted to anyone who attempts to enter our nation,"

A person who would make a statement like that obviously knows nothing about the Constitution, and I have strong doubts about their knowledge of American principles at all. The document plainly in clear and simple words that human rights apply to everyone, not just citizens. The only time that a distinction between "people" and "citizens" was made concerns voting issues and holding office. Otherwise the Constitution applies to "all persons."

Posted by: Texas Aggie on February 9, 2010 at 8:47 PM | PERMALINK

Finally, to DAY: I was a Marine infantryman, there was not a single Obama supporter in my company. -- steve, @18:55

Steve's company must have been rogue. Or, maybe, rouge. I know several Marines who were Obama's supporters. And that doesn't even include the ones of earlier date, like my husband or "my" Senator (Jim Webb).

Posted by: exlibra on February 9, 2010 at 9:08 PM | PERMALINK

Members of the new interrogation unit will have the authority to travel around the world to talk to suspects and will be trained to handle certain high-interest people, such as al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Linguists and cultural and interrogation specialists will be assigned to the group and will have "some division of responsibility" regarding types of detainees, a senior administration official said. Most of the group's members will work there full time, although they will have part-time support from the FBI.

Interrogators will not necessarily read detainees their rights before questioning, instead making that decision on a case-by-case basis, officials said. That could affect whether some material can be used in a U.S. court of law. The main purpose of the new unit, however, is to glean intelligence, especially about potential terrorist attacks, the officials said.

"It is not going to, certainly, be automatic in any regard that they are going to be Mirandized," one official said, referring to the practice of reading defendants their rights. "Nor will it be automatic that they are not Mirandized."

The director of the HIG is expected to come from the FBI, and the deputy will be selected from one of the intelligence agencies, such as the CIA. Although past CIA techniques have come under fire in the debate over torture, the agency will continue to play "a very important role," one official said.

So if you got a call that the FBI was interrogating a "high-interest" person, would you assume they were Mirandized ?

Posted by: Neo on February 9, 2010 at 9:40 PM | PERMALINK

"" Politically motivated criticism and unfounded fear-mongering only serve the goals of al-Qaeda. ""

Funny how Mr Benan ignores the above quote in the USA Today piece. Funny how the left would have erupted in apoplectic fury had their criticism during the Bush years been equated with "serving the goals of al-Qaeda. Funny how since Obama's election how the Left has discovered patriotism and scorns dissent. Funny how easy it will be to ignore all of this hypocrisy when the GOP inevitably regains the White House.


Posted by: Mike on February 10, 2010 at 12:06 AM | PERMALINK

Funny how Mikey ignores the pushback from repubs regarding the Iraq war "dissent" as "aiding and abetting the enemy" or "treason" or "unpatriotic". Funny how Mikey ignores the fact that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 or terrorism and was nothing more than "fear mongering". Funny how Mikey did not mention how Democrats stood up for the Constitution and the Supremes agreed regarding Habeus Corpus. Funny how Mikey ignores the facts regarding past terrorists and how they were treated the same way. Funny, huh Mikey?

Posted by: Dave on February 10, 2010 at 5:53 AM | PERMALINK

What's wrong with some of you people? You seem to have a PROBLEM, with us trying to SAVE AMERICAN LIVES? You look down your nose, at HARSH INTERROGATION METHODS. Did you SEE what they did to Daniel Pearl? Or that other American Kid they DECAPITATED? Did you SEE what they did to those AMERICAN SECURITY PEOPLE, on that Bridge, in Iraq? Do you REMEMBER what they did on 911? Do you think that they would have SET OFF A NUKE that day, if they had one? Do you think that they would SET OFF A NUKE IN NEW YORK TODAY, if they could?
Who do you people think you are? YOU DON'T SPEAK FOR ME! I EXPECT my government, to do EVERYTHING to keep my Family Safe. EVERYTHING! I don't care what the 'WORLD' thinks. We've EARNED THE RIGHT to protect ourselves, by ANY MEANS NECESSARY. ALL of that SCUM, in the MIDDLE EAST, ain't worth ONE AMERICAN. Cut off their fingers. Cut off their ears. SKIN THEM ALIVE. Learn the LESSONS of HISTORY. Learn the LESSON on SHERMANS' MARCH TO THE SEA. The LESSON of DRESDEN and TOKYO, and BERLIN, and HIROSHIMA and NAGASAKI. And if the rest of the world don't like it? They can STICK IT.

Posted by: Timothy L. Pennell on February 10, 2010 at 9:43 AM | PERMALINK

Doug on February 9, 2010 at 8:17 PM writes "Constitutional rights are not automatically granted to anyone who attempts to enter our nation,". A person who would make a statement like that obviously knows nothing about the Constitution.... The document plainly in clear and simple words that human rights apply to everyone, not just citizens."

Yes and no Doug. The US Constitution recognises, as does US settled law going back to 1776 (until the insane Boumedienne decision of 2008) only TWO forms of US justice. Full rights under cicilian trial or lesser rights under military justice in times of war or great public distress.

US law never gave enemy combatants, let alone terrorist combatants who are prima facie planning or committing war crimes ( deliberate attacks on US civilians) full contituional rights - but it does give them to peaceful Jose who jumps the border from Mexico, or even criminal Frank who illegally comes from Italy and commits civilian murders in the USA.

The Consitution and the law make a disctinction Doug and many others fail to make. War is war and peace is peace. Obama says we are at war with ALQ and the Underwear bomber was sent by ALQ to committ war crimes on US terriory.

In WW2 when Hitler sent Nazis to land by sub and committ sabotage on US soil, Roosevelt had them all before a summary Mailitary Commission and all ( save a stoolpigeon) executed. When the Supreme Court made noises they might object, Rooselvely sent word he would execute them anyway as CIC.

In the Civil War, Lincoln suspended habeus corpus.

The Nuremburg Trial was a modified Military Comission from which there was no right of appeal, and limited but fair rights for the accused.

If you think your human rights are infinite, I suggest Doug you join the military and star abusing your CO in public. Get a few other to join you too. See how fast your infinite rights of free speech and feedom of assembly evaporate and don't ask for a civilian lawyer, either! You won't get one.

Doug, you perhaps do not know the difference between war and peace and vetween a jihadi on a war crime mission and the guy who just mugged granny in the park. But the US Consitution and all US courts, since 1776 have. The sad thing is that unremitting LAWFARE by the left and international anti-Americans have totally hamstrung us in this regard. Enemies of the US are now mainstreamed and given F. Lee Bailey, a civilian pulpit and we get info out of them by plea bargaining.

Here is a plea bargain coming your way soon: "OK, if we give you shorter time for the 763 Americans you just killed in the NYC subway, will you Mr. Abdul/Mohammed/Said (whatever) speak to your lawyer as you may escape a heavy sentance if you strike a deal and tell us where that suitacse nuke we know is in Boston has been placed."

Here is another: US forces capturing ALQ in Yemen or anywhere can't interrogate them, even if their own units might suffer further losses, until they are Mirandized and have a lawyer flown into base for them.

A Supreme Court justice once said the Constitution is not a suicide pact. But Doug and others, well meaning as they may be, are making it one.

Posted by: Peter Gee on February 10, 2010 at 11:19 AM | PERMALINK

this for Dr. Biobrain, or is it Dr. Braindead:

Jack Bauer is a fictional character on a television series. You've been spending far too much time watching 24 and listening to the those brain damaged narcissits spewing out their brand of bile on the radio.

And yes, I know, I may have misspelled "narcissits".

Posted by: dan on February 10, 2010 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK

Well no worries I mistyped most of my post... getting old and can't see but the gist of it is all there despite the misspellings

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