January 26th, 2010
05:45 PM ET
8 years ago

Congress questions administration's handling of terror suspect


The two men who led the 9/11 Commission appeared before the Senate Homeland Security Committee Tuesday. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Washington (CNN) - The man who led the investigation into the 9/11 terrorist attacks said Tuesday he was shocked and upset when he heard the intelligence community was not consulted before the decision was made to read the suspected underwear bomber his rights.

That decision came only hours after authorities say the would-be bomber attempted to blow up a plane on Christmas Day.

Former 9/11 Commission Chairman Thomas Kean told the Senate Homeland Security Committee on Tuesday it "made no sense whatsoever" to give Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab all of his rights and a lawyer before he could be questioned fully.

AbdulMutallab was interviewed twice by FBI agents before they read him his Miranda rights approximately 10 hours after the failed bombing incident. Officials said AbdulMutallab did provide some intelligence during the
questioning but stopped talking once he was Mirandized - read his rights under U.S. law.

Kean said there may be other plots and details about al Qaeda leadership in Yemen that will never be known.

"This is not just about prosecuting an individual, it's about protecting the American people," said Kean.

Lee Hamilton, the former vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission, told the committee there appears to be no government policy on how to handle suspected terrorist detainees. "There has to be a policy, it has to be clarified," he said.

Committee Chairman Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Connecticut, called the decision to Mirandize AbdulMutallab "outrageous.. a kind of 'Alice in Wonderland' turning of the world of common sense on its head."

The committee's ranking Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, said she was shocked to be told by the director of national intelligence, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center and the Homeland Security secretary that they had no input into the decision.

Lieberman and Collins have introduced a bill requiring that intelligence officials be consulted before a decision is made on whether to place a terrorism detainee in a civilian or military court.

The senators also sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder urging the Obama administration to transfer AbdulMutallab to the Defense Department as an unprivileged enemy belligerent.

Both Kean and Hamilton indicated the attempted attack on Christmas Day provided some lessons on U.S. counter-terrorism capabilities and insights into al Qaeda.

Kean said there is an urgent need to strengthen analysis to ensure the dots can be connected.

The intelligence community had gathered numerous bits of information prior to the failed airline bombing. There were intercepts of messages indicating al Qaeda in Yemen was plotting an attack involving a Nigerian and another one which contained a partial name. The father of AbdulMutallab had warned the U.S. that his son was being radicalized in Yemen.

But those "dots" were not connected in a way to thwart the plot. Kean called on Congress to give the director of national intelligence and the National Counterterrorism Center the resources needed to recruit and retain the best analysts.

Kean also stressed the importance of eliminating terrorist sanctuaries such as the one that exists in Yemen.

Hamilton warned about complacency in the battle against terrorists. He said the threat from al Qaeda remains strong and its determination to attack the U.S. homeland is unabated. Hamilton said he believes the number of solo attacks attempted against the U.S. last year - as opposed to attacks involving groups of individuals - represents some success in the fight against al Qaeda.

"It's more difficult for al Qaeda to organize the complicated attacks," said Hamilton.

But the former congressman said he has no doubt that al Qaeda continues to plot against the U.S. with whatever capability it might have.

Kean agreed that al Qaeda may not be able to pull off a big attack.

And he found al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden taking credit for the failed Christmas Day bombing not to necessarily be a bad thing. "It shows he hasn't got much else to talk about at this point," said Kean.

According to authorities, AbdulMutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian national, tried to detonate explosives hidden in his underwear as a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam, Netherlands, made its final approach to Detroit, Michigan, on December 25.

The device failed to fully detonate, instead setting off a fire at AbdulMutallab's seat.

A new audio tape allegedly from bin Laden claims responsibility for the attempt to blow up the plane on Christmas Day and warns the United States of more attacks.

CNN could not independently confirm the authenticity of the message.

soundoff (32 Responses)
  1. John

    Only U.S. citizens are guaranteed U.S. rights.

    Yet another example of the wide-eyed incompetence of the Obama Administration.

    The Council has ruled.

    January 26, 2010 06:13 pm at 6:13 pm |
  2. joe kiloz

    The President, Attorney General Holder, the liberal Democratic wing have accomplished something unbelievable here::::the terrorists who've accused our Seals of roughing them up in Iraq and the Detroit Bomber are now in parity of rights with someone committing an armed robbery.

    Don't be alarmed when this practice is disontinued after a successful attack on US soil, beyond Fort Hood.

    January 26, 2010 06:14 pm at 6:14 pm |
  3. jrzshor

    this is america. we have the right to be as stupid as we want to be. no one should call that into question.

    January 26, 2010 06:23 pm at 6:23 pm |
  4. Christie

    Reading this man his right of law has nothing to do with whether or not he talks. Where was the intelligence community? All the people that needed to be involved were included – so if your name was left out maybe there was a reason why? Give it a break, please!

    January 26, 2010 06:24 pm at 6:24 pm |
  5. joe

    It's very scary to see how the Obama Administration and specifically Eric Holder view our national security, this Pollyanna approach needs to be highlighted in the mainstream media, not buried or ignored to protect the President. The media should be focused on doing their job and putting our protection ahead of political cover for the President.

    Quite simply, there policies on national security and terrorism make no sense and endangers us all. I work in downtown NYC, and my comment is not about politics, just common sense and fear.

    January 26, 2010 06:26 pm at 6:26 pm |
  6. Four and The Door

    I can hardly say this enough. Thank you again, Massachusetts voters!

    January 26, 2010 06:31 pm at 6:31 pm |
  7. Dimslie

    Let's hope this doesn't lead to the persecution of innocent terrorists. I wonder how those who supported Eric Holder's nomination are going to explain it to the voters in November.

    January 26, 2010 06:39 pm at 6:39 pm |
  8. Republicans - Wrong about everything, Wrong for America (and GW Bush was the worst President ever)

    Yeah right. Because Al Qaeda is going to tell all of their plans to someone stupid enough to try to blow himself up with his underwear. Imagine when this guy agreed to do this. The Al Qaeda leader says "we want you to wear an underwear bomb and detonate it on a plane". This idiot says "no problem". The Al Qaeda runs out of the room, shouting to his waiting cronies " the fool, I mean he's going to do it". Just like that scene out of Blazing Saddles.

    January 26, 2010 06:40 pm at 6:40 pm |
  9. Barry the Neomonarchist

    Obama is a jihadist sympathizer. Whats there to understand here ?

    January 26, 2010 06:41 pm at 6:41 pm |
  10. D.D.

    Maybe these men should apply for some position so they can explain their logic-up close and personal.

    January 26, 2010 06:43 pm at 6:43 pm |
  11. Enough

    What handling of terror suspect? We are the under the naive Obama administration, instead of interrogating this would be murderer, we allow him to lawyer up...........nice move!

    January 26, 2010 06:46 pm at 6:46 pm |
  12. Jimmy James

    Whats to question?They questioned him for 50 minutes after he was taken off the plane. That should have divulged years worth of intelligence. Pacifying wimps. The trials in NYC are estimated for security alone, 200 million a year. That's just security. Yeah the Democrats know how to save money and cut spending. With appeals it is estimated to be in the billions.

    January 26, 2010 06:52 pm at 6:52 pm |
  13. Ancient Texan

    When the Attorney General is totally sympathetic to the poor misunderstood terrorists, what do we expect? National Security has gone down the drain with this amateur administration.

    January 26, 2010 06:54 pm at 6:54 pm |
  14. rob

    Lee Hamilton, the former vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission, told the committee there appears to be no government policy on how to handle suspected terrorist detainees. "There has to be a policy, it has to be clarified," he said.

    This is a chilling statement. This Administration and Justice dept seems to be more interested in appeasing the ACLU and some European Elites than getting all the inteligence it could from this terrorist.

    He should have disappeared for a few weeks untill they were sure they got every bit of info he had about possible future attacks and who helped him. Then try him and put him away or whatever

    January 26, 2010 06:58 pm at 6:58 pm |
  15. Kate in San Diego

    Since we have the best system of justice on earth, i fail to understand why everyone seems firghtened of trying these people as the criminals they are in open court.

    January 26, 2010 06:58 pm at 6:58 pm |
  16. Terry

    Holder and Obama are cowards!!!!!! They have no interest in protecting americans!!!!!!! They are obviously in way over their heads, and not qualified for the positions they hold!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    January 26, 2010 07:05 pm at 7:05 pm |
  17. so rich even obama couldn't hurt me but you middle class folk should worry

    This is so disgusting I can't even put it into words!

    January 26, 2010 07:27 pm at 7:27 pm |
  18. Allowing a Monopoly doesnt bring down prices

    I think Rush is the biggest terrorist in America,he wants to see us fail daily.

    January 26, 2010 07:30 pm at 7:30 pm |
  19. Chandler

    Why is it so hard for people to understand that EVERYONE gets rights under the American Judicial system, citizen or not. Miranda rights are not something that is special for US Citizens, they are for anyone who commits a crime in our country. It is a founding principle of our Constitution.

    January 26, 2010 07:33 pm at 7:33 pm |
  20. ThinkAgain

    If this is Kean's attitude, then I'd also like to hear his opinion on how American prisoners of war were treated by the Japanese during World War II.

    Who are we, Mr. Kean? The United States of America or a terrorist state?

    January 26, 2010 07:46 pm at 7:46 pm |
  21. Larry

    What a bunch of hypocrites ...

    If you truly are concerned with protecting the American people, then lets take a real look at who IN OUR GOVERNMENT helped set up the inside job of taking down the twin towers and killing thousands

    And please start with looking at George W. Bush and Dick Cheney

    Guilty all the way ...

    HYPOCRITES !!!!!!!!!

    January 26, 2010 07:49 pm at 7:49 pm |
  22. Rick

    No, no... we must treat these terrorists as people and give them all their rights. Their just misguided people and once they hear the message of Obama, they will understand we're not all like Bush and they will love us!

    January 26, 2010 07:52 pm at 7:52 pm |
  23. Mike, formerly from Syracuse

    This is exactly why the terrorist loving Obama Administration needs to go. Our tax dollars should go for weapons to kill these people not lawyers to defend them.

    January 26, 2010 07:56 pm at 7:56 pm |
  24. indy

    It's nice to know some people object to the notion of a terrorists rights being more important than those of American citizens.

    January 26, 2010 07:58 pm at 7:58 pm |
  25. Dennis in AZ

    Ya, the Congress now has a problem with something that the American people have had a problem with since Christmas. They're nothing if not professional politicians up there in DC. I say why have a trial at all–lets's jut take the guy out to a field somewhere–re-equip him with the boom-boom shorts and let him martyr himself. It's what he wanted–we'd save the money of taking him to trial.

    January 26, 2010 08:17 pm at 8:17 pm |
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