Senators seek military trial for terrorism suspect

Tensions mounted Monday between the Obama administration and key senators over the case involving Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who has been charged with attempted murder in a failed effort to blow up Northwest Flight 253 on Christmas.

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joe Lieberman and ranking member Susan Collins urged the administration to immediately transfer Abdulmutallab into military custody, where he could be tried before a military commission.

In a sharply worded letter, the senators criticized the administration's decision to charge Abdulmutallab as a criminal and to read him his Miranda rights, which advised him that he could remain silent and have a lawyer.

Lieberman and Collins said he should instead be classified as an "unprivileged enemy belligerent," a legal term under the Military Commissions Act.

"The decision to treat Abdulmutallab as a criminal rather than [an unprivileged enemy belligerent] almost certainly prevented the military and the intelligence community from obtaining information that would have been critical to learning more about how our enemy operates and to preventing future attacks against our homeland and Americans and our allies throughout the world," they wrote to Attorney General Holder and John Brennan, the president's top homeland security adviser.

The Abdulmutallab case has raised fresh questions in Congress about how the administration -- and Democrats in general -- are handling national security, an issue that President Obama will likely have to address in the State of the Union he gives Wednesday night.

Lieberman and Collins also slammed the Justice Department.

"Though the president has said repeatedly that we are at war, it does not appear to us that the president's words are reflected in the actions of some in the executive branch, including some at the Department of Justice, responsible for fighting that war," they wrote.

The White House and Justice Department pointed to a statement issued Thursday when asked for comment.

"Since September 11, 2001, every terrorism suspect apprehended in the United States by either the Bush administration or the Obama administration has been initially arrested, held or charged under federal criminal law," that statement said.

"In the hours immediately after Abdulmutallab allegedly attempted to detonate an explosive device on board a Northwest Airlines flight, FBI agents who responded to the scene interrogated him and obtained intelligence that has already proved useful in the fight against Al Qaeda," it said.

The statement added that charging Abdulmutallab under the laws of war or referring him for prosecution before a military commission would not force him to divulge intelligence or prevent him from obtaining an attorney.

Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein and ranking member Kit Bond are reviewing how the administration has handled Abdulmutallab as part of a wider probe into the bombing attempt.

On Thursday, Bond told reporters he was especially concerned that reading Abdulmutallab his Miranda rights "may have cut off valuable information."

Feinstein added she was concerned that the administration did not consult senior intelligence and homeland security officials, including Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, before charging Abdulmutallab as a criminal.

To that end, Collins and Lieberman introduced a bill last week that would require the administration to consult the director of national intelligence, secretaries of the Homeland Security and Defense departments, and the director of the National Counterterrorism Center before interrogating and charging suspected foreign terrorists.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

    Download
  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

    Download
  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

    Download
  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

    Download
  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

    Download
  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

    Download
  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.