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.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

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

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


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