AG Defends Handling of Christmas Day Bomber

February 3, 2010

Attorney General Eric Holder joined the Obama administration's counterattack on the handling of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who allegedly attempted to bomb a flight landing in Detroit on Christmas Day.

The volley began when critics accused the administration of ignoring national security in favor prosecuting Abdulmutallab in a domestic court. They argued that this was evidenced by detaining Abdulmutallab as a criminal, not as an "enemy combatant." The Attorney General, a former member of the ACS Board of Directors, joined the fray after threats were announced to block domestic trials of terror suspects.

His sharply worded letter to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell reads, in part:

Some have argued that had Abdulmutallab been declared an enemy combatant, the government could have held him indefinitely without providing him access to an attorney. But the government's legal authority to do so is far from clear. In fact, when the Bush administration attempted to deny Jose Padilla access to an attorney, a federal judge in New York rejected that position, ruling that Padilla must be allowed to meet with his lawyer. Notably, the judge in that case was Michael Mukasey, my predecessor as Attorney General. In fact, there is no court-approved system currently in place in which suspected terrorists captured inside the United States can be detained and held without access to an attorney; nor is there any known mechanism to persuade an uncooperative individual to talk to the government that has been proven more effective than the criminal justice system. 

Holder's point about the efficacy of the criminal justice system builds on recent reports that Abdulmutallab is in fact cooperating with authorities and providing actionable intelligence. The Attorney General seemed keen to demonstrate the administration's dedication both to the rule of law and national security.

"President Obama has made clear repeatedly, we are at war against a dangerous, intelligent, and adaptable enemy. Our goal in this war, as in all others, is to win," Holder wrote. "Victory means defeating the enemy without damaging the fundamental principles on which our nation was founded."

[H/T: Adam Serwer.]